Intel working on new Atom chip architecture

Chip giant is developing a new Atom chip design that taps into the goodness of the new 3D transistors announced last week, CNET has learned.

Intel is working on a new Atom chip architecture that goes beyond the 3D transistors announced last week as the chip giant accelerates development of its most power-efficient chip design.

Google Chromebooks, due to be available in June, use Atom processors. The Silvermont architecture will be two generations beyond the current Atom chips
Google Chromebooks, due to be available in June, use Atom processors. The Silvermont architecture will be two generations beyond the current Atom chips. Samsung

The new Atom-based "micro-architecture," codenamed "Silvermont," will ship in 2013, adding a spanking new architecture on top of the new transistor structures, industry sources familiar with Intel's plans told CNET. This will be the first architectural change since Atom--widely used in small laptops today--was announced in 2008.

When coupled with the 3D transistors, Silvermont is expected to enable new levels of integration and performance and make major strides in power efficiency.

Like all Atom processors going forward, Silvermont will be a system-on-a-chip design. SoCs put most of the core silicon on one piece of silicon or in one chip package. Processors used in smartphones and tablets are invariably SOCs. Intel's upcoming Z760 processor, for instance, is an SOC.

Atom is now on a fast track, according to the sources. Intel will accelerate the Atom processor roadmap at a pace faster than Moore's Law, which generally states that the number of a transistors that can be placed on a chip doubles roughly every two years. Atom SoCs are shipping now at 45-nanometer, moving to 32-nanometer in volume later this year, and then the Silvermont SoC's married with the new architecture will ship in 2013. This results in three process generations and one new architecture inside of three years, according to sources.

Though details are still scarce, the Silvermont architecture will be designed specifically to take advantage the 22-nanometer technology and 3D transistors, according to sources.

Intel is facing a new competitive landscape beyond its traditional PC nemesis, Advanced Micro Devices. A bevy of large chip suppliers such as Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Nvidia are cranking out increasingly faster processors for smartphones and tablets based on the ARM design, which Atom competes with.

Intel is expected to disclose more details about Atom SoC plans at its analyst meeting next week.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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