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Intel reaches back in time for its ultralow power chips

An architectural idea that dropped out of Intel's chip line years ago makes a comeback in its low power chips.

It appears that Intel has turned the clock back several years in terms of chip architecture to reduce power in the upcoming Silverthorne mobile chip.

At the International Solid States Circuits Conference next week, chip designers from the company will discuss a mobile processor based around the x86 Intel Architecture that uses an "in-order pipeline" among other features.

To most people, "in-order pipeline" doesn't mean doodly-squat, but in chip design it's a big deal. Chips with this sort of pipeline, sort of a microprocessor's assembly line, have to perform tasks in a specified manner. If it needs data to perform a specific calculation, everything stops until the data comes in.

Chips with an out-of-order pipeline can perform tasks further down the line. Out-of-order chips have higher performance, but they burn more energy. Intel PC chips have been based around out-of-order pipelines since the mid-'90s. The Pentium Pro was one of the first big hits the company had with this sort of architecture.

Tiny Via Technologies used an in-order pipeline on its low-power C7 chip and will later this year come out with its first out-of-order chip. Glenn Henry, who runs Centaur (Via's chip design group) was the one to tip us off that Silverthorne would be an in-order chip.

Intel did not use the name "Silverthorne" in the conference materials, but the technical details of the chip that the company will discuss at ISSCC, and the details the company has provided about Silverthorne, are the same. Both are described as having 47 million transistors and being made on the 45-nanometer process. The power consumption in the conference entry says the chip will consume less than 2 watts. Silverthorne is said to consume 10 times less than current mobile chips, which puts it in the same range. Companies also don't put far-out prototypes at ISSCC. Usually, they discuss chips about to come out. Silverthorne is due soon.

And both come out of Texas.