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10. It won’t suck.
Atom parts have long been the butt of our jokes for being the anti-performance parts that inspired the Netbook but anyone who ever tried to drive a Netbook for anything beyond browsing knows how much Atom’s sucked in performance. A dual-core, Hyper-Threaded 1.6Ghz Atom N2600 gives up a Cinebench 11.5 score of 0.47. That’s just barely faster than a single-core Athlon 64 3200’s score of 0.42. For reference, a Core i7-2600K gives up about 8.1 and a 3.2GHz Core 2 Duo E8200 gives you about 1.91. The actual performance isn’t known, but the new “Silvermont” version of Atom should offer far more performance than we've ever seen before.
Meet the new Intel Atom family
9. No more process sloppy seconds
Atom has long been the bottom bin of Intel CPUs. It didn’t get access to the latest process technologies and while Core 2 and Core i7 have been on a “tick tock” strategy where two new designs are produced on each process, Atom has plowed along with a one “new” design for each process. With Silvermont, the chip gets moved to the latest 22nm process 3D transistors. Even better for Atom will be the next-generation. With the introduction of the 14nm process, Intel will introduce a “tick” Airmont and then a “tock” chip that doesn’t even have a codename yet. This is just another sign of just how important Intel sees Atom to its future.
Intel Atom core block diagram
8. Silvermont probably won’t bring back Netbooks.
The Netbook was the hottest piece of tech that was introduced at the right time. Who didn’t want a $300 mini-notebook when the entire financial world was collapsing? Unfortunately most users who bought them quickly became disenfranchised with the performance of the Netbook. In fact, Netbook sales numbers look like a failed rocket launch. Netbook sales peaked in 2010 with 32 million Netbooks sold, according to IHS. This year, 3.97 million Netbooks will sell with IHS predicting just 264,000 Netbooks will sell next year before Netbooks go extinct by 2015. Many blame the death of the Netbook on the iPad and other ARM-based tablets but we like to blame Atom. If Netbooks had had decent performance from day one, they might not have cratered so badly. Even with Silvermont and say, Core i7-lite performance, will OEMs try Netbooks again or have they had enough? We think OEMs have moved beyond the Netbook which is a bit of a shame because if they had decent performance years ago, maybe they wouldn’t be the Dodo bird of PCs.
Silvermont's wide range of operation
7. Think of it as Atom i7 or Atom 2 Quad
Silvermont will be built around a modular design. Each module will feature two cores and Intel can stitch together up to eight cores on a die. Unlike AMD’s modular design that shares chip resources, Silvermont’s cores are separate cores that only share a common L2 cache. All previous Atom chips have continued to use the ancient front side bus to connect the chips but Silvermont will feature a point-to-point interface connecting to a system agent which will hook into the memory controller. Also important in Silvermont is the move from the in-order design of all previous Atoms to an out-of-order design. Out-of-order designs allow instructions to be executed out of order to greatly increase performance over in-order designs. For perspective, out-of-order CPU designs have been used by Intel since the Pentium Pro chip. Most ARM-based CPUs have also been in order up until the Cortex A9 chips.
The main penalty to out-of-order designs has been an increase in power consumption and die space which is why Intel turned to an in-order design for the original Bonnell-based Atoms in 2008. Intel says with its advanced 22nm process, it can now do an out-of-order design while keeping power consumption and die space to a minimum. Intel has also completely redesign Silvermont with larger branch predictors, improved decoders, redesigned execution units, larger L2 and reduced L2 cache latency. In a nutshell, performance of Silvermont will be a factor of 3x over the current fastest Atom’s with 5x lower power consumption.
Oh yeah, Silvertmont also gets SSE3.1, SSE4.2, hardware AES-NI encyprtion, hardware random number generation and several other instructions from the Westmere generation of CPUs.
6. Atom now gets Turbo too.
Intel’s popular and effective Turbo Boost makes an appearance in Silvermont which can now “burst” different cores up depending on the load. Intel says Atom also has the ability to run cores at different speeds as well. The company has previously pooh-poohed such an approach and still says it's more efficient to run all cores at the same speed when needed, but certain server, notebook, tablet and phone makers may want to intentionally run cores at asymmetric speeds to reduce power consumption sometimes.
Intel Atom Power Sharing
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