SAN JOSE Intel Corp. is shipping new versions of its Atom processor that integrate graphics and a memory controller on the same die as the x86 CPU. The PC processor giant hopes the new chips will help expand its lead in the rapidly growing market for netbooks.
The N450 for netbooks runs at up to 1.66 GHz, dissipates up to 5.5W and uses 667 MHz DDR2 memory. Two versions for entry-level desktops have up to two x86 cores and dissipate up to 13W.
The N450, code-named Pinetrail, consumes 20 percent less average power and comes in a 60 percent smaller package than the previous three chip set. The new chip still requires a separate I/O controller.
To make the N450, Intel shrunk its previously separate 90 nm 945GSE graphics chip into the new 45 nm die. The block can decode high definition video up at up to 720-progreessive resolution.
Intel's Atom has a commanding lead in the netbook sector with more than 80 design wins and 40 million chips shipped to date. "We expect this to cross 100 million units in 2011 or 2012," said Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at Intel.
ABI Research estimates as many as 140 million netbooks will ship in 2013, a segment growing at a compound rate of 47 percent. Nanduri said about a third of netbook buyers are choosing the small systems over a notebook PC, but overall the mobile market continues to grow.
A broad group of chip makers have lower cost ARM-based integrated processors aimed at similar mobile systems. It includes Marvell Technology Group that announced December 16 its Armada 300, a 55 nm chip running at up to 2 GHz while drawing less than 2W power.
"All of our current designs are going to 40 nm, and we have dedicated teams on each one," said Simon Milner, general manager of Marvell's enterprise business unit.
Other competitors include the Freescale i.Mx, Nvidia Tegra, Qualcomm SnapDragon and Texas Instruments Omap. Each has won designs in a range of new systems including Google Android smartphones, Zune HD media players and other mobile devices.
Several of the ARM-based competitors are focused on enabling a class of easy-to-use Linux netbooks they call smartbooks that could sell for less than $300. "There's a lot of press about those devices but we haven't seen any of them yet, and Atom has been the processor of choice for netbooks," said Nanduri.
"The biggest traction the ARM community is having is more in tablet and touch-screen oriented systems, rather than direct replacements for clamshell keyboard devices," said Sandeep Shah, a director of marketing and applications at Marvell.
OEMs are using with their Atom netbooks a mix of Microsoft Windows 7, Windows XP or Moblin operating systems. Moblin is a mobile Linux variant for x86 systems backed by Intel.