Intel Revamps Atom Chip Design for Tablets, Small Laptops

Intel Revamps Atom Chip Design for Tablets, Small Laptops
ASUS's new tablet "Fonepad" has an Intel Atom processor, the Android 4.1 OS and a 7-inch LCD display. Photographer: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images

Intel Corp., seeking to harness rising demand for tablets, redesigned one of its marquee chips to better cater to thin and light computing devices by providing more power while using less battery life.

The new design for the Atom chip is called Silvermont and Intel has sent samples to customers, Executive Vice President Dadi Perlmutter said at a briefing today at the company’s Santa Clara, California, headquarters. Silvermont offers three times the performance and is as much as five times more power-efficient than its predecessor, he said.

The design will also be the basis of chips aimed at everything from smartphones to low-end servers, Perlmutter said. Intel, whose chips run 80 percent of the world’s PCs, has struggled to repeat that success in the mobile-device market. After more than a decade and billions of dollars in spending on research and production, the company still lags behind Qualcomm Inc. and other makers of chips that run ARM Holdings Plc technology in phones and tablets.

“Intel is committed to come in a very aggressive manner into mobility,” Perlmutter said. The new design will compare favorably to rival products based on ARM technology, he said. “We are on a path of breaking the myth that ARM can do things that Intel cannot.”

A Silvermont-based chip with four processor cores will appear in tablets by the end of the year, Intel said, while a version for mobile phones will also ship to customers by year’s end. The new design will have features previously introduced in higher-end Intel chips.

Silvermont is the first version of Atom to have a capability called out-of-order execution. This speeds up the rate at which a processor can run programs by cutting down on the time the chip sits idle. It also has improved branch prediction, a feature that lets a processor guess what software will need next and performs calculations in advance of a request, Belli Kuttanna, an Intel research fellow, said at the presentation.

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