Intel's new Clover Trail chip will support Android & Linux

There have been rumors that Intel's new Atom CPU, Clover Trail, would only support Windows 8, but not Android or Linux. We now know that the chip will support these open-source operating systems as well.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When the "news" came out that Intel wouldn't be supporting Linux on its new Atom CPU, Clover Trail, I didn't buy it. This next-generation Intel Atom processor was always meant primarily for Windows 8; but with Intel's x86 instruction set, it would also always support Android and Linux.

We now know that Intel will officially support the popular open-source operating systems on the Clover Trail family as well.

In an e-mail from an Intel spokesperson, Intel said, "Intel has plans for another version of this platform directed at Linux/Android; however we are not commenting on the platform specifics or market segments at this time. Stay tuned.”

Earlier this year Intel had released a new low-power Atom processor, the Medfield, primarily for Android. These one-core chips are now being used in engineering samples running Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, and the just announced Motorola RAZRi.

The “problem” with Clover Trail for Android and Linux was that it had two cores. Intel has long been concerned with Android's power and heating requirements for multi-core Atom CPUs for mobile platforms. There was never any difficulty with running Android or Linux on Clover Trail. The trouble was getting it to work efficiently with Clover Trail's power management.

Clover Trail is designed to have much better battery life than the earlier Atom processors. It does this with a new power state called S0ix or “active idle.” Intel claims that Clover Trail -- as well as other Haskell family chips --  will use 20 times less power while in active idle state, compared with when it’s on and idling. In this state, the system will continue to keep its network connection up and to be able to quickly wake up when a user "turns" a Clover Trail tablet on.

Intel will support Android and Linux on the new power-efficient Clover Trail and other Haswell processors.

Since Haswell, Intel's forthcoming fourth-generation Core processors, will be Intel's primary processor for 2013, there was never any question that Linux would support its new power management features. Indeed, Intel has already been working on Linux support for active idle. In July, Rajeev Muralidhar, an Intel software architect and Linux kernel developer, presented a paper on integrating the standard Linux and Android power management architectures with aggressive low power idle standby states, aka active idle, in Medfield chips.

In short, while Intel was making Windows 8 support its first priority for Clover Trail, the company had also been working to make Android and Linux work with its key power management features.

That said, some Linux experts dismiss Clover Trail as a dead-end chip. Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative, wrote in his blog that, “Atom isn't really the right architecture for portable devices with limited power budgets. Intel has tried to address this by building a hidden core within the chip that actually runs RISC instructions, while providing the CISC instruction set that ia32 programs like Microsoft Windows expect. But this doesn't approach ARM's power efficiency.”

In short, “Clover Trail's target is a future Windows 8 Tablet. ... If you expect the Windows tablet to do as well as the Windows 8 smartphones recently released by Nokia and others, you probably aren't far from wrong. Clover Trail, built with partner Microsoft, might be Intel's biggest loser since Itanium, built with partner HP.”

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