Mini-Linux chips coming

Atom processor is smallest yet

Intel has launched what it believes are the world's smallest processors, dubbed the Atom.

The x86 processors, formally code-named Silverthorne and Diamondville, have been designed on new microarchitecture designed for low-power MIDs (mobile internet devices). They use 10 times less power than Intel's Celeron M chip and will run on Linux.

They are built on the chipmaker's 45nm process and have a thermal design power (TDP) specification in 0.6-2.5 watt range, compared with the Core 2 Duo's output of 35 watts. The new chips scale to 1.8GHz.

The chips will be launched in the second quarter of this year and will tighten competition between Intel and its United Kingdom rival ARM, which specialises in designing processors for MIDs, including the iPod and iPhone, Nintendo game consoles, and mobile phones.

Intel's MIDs will operate on its Menlow platform and run an embedded Linux platform such as Unbuntu's Mobile and Embedded Edition.

Intel system software division vice president Doug Fisher says the market will welcome Linux-based MIDs.

"The emerging MID category represents significant growth opportunity for Intel and the industry. The demand for Linux on these devices is increasing," Fisher says.

Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney says the chip can be used in MIDs such as "netbooks" and "nettops", and in embedded applications and thin clients.

"This is our smallest processor built with the world's smallest transistors [and] is a fundamental new shift in design," Maloney says. The Atom processor includes a low-power companion chip with integrated graphics and a wireless radio.

It's successor, Moorestone, will be released in 2010 and is touted as being a further 10 times more power efficient than the Atom processor.

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