Intel has introduced two versions of the Atom processor. The ones, which are of the series 2xx, 3xx and N2xx with codename “Diamondville”, have been especially designed for nettops and netbooks, while the Z5xx codenamed “Silverthorne” is for the mobile Internet devices (MIDs). This particular chip is physically much smaller in size than the others with low power drain, making it suitable for MIDs.

Nettops are the future concept of desk top PCs, in which there would be a solid state disk, no optical drive, and would have a few USB ports for your convenience. It would be a low cost item, around $300, and would be used for basic computing tasks in which you would be able to surf the Internet, access web based and rich internet applications, and have audio and video playback. The netbooks would be ultra-thin notebooks having wireless connectivity and all other functions of a nettop.

Intel's Atom processor for mobile Internet devices brings to you the smallest pocket size Internet experience, having low power consumption and high performance. Intel brings in a revolution in MIDs design, and these devices would gain much competitive advantage utilising Intel Atom processors, along with low power companion chips with integrated graphics, providing an Internet experience and high definition video.

The architecture:

The Atom family has 32 KB of L1 instruction cache, 24 KB of L1 data cache and an L2 cache of 512 KB, with 1 MB in the dual core processor, and the types and capacities in the processors are determined by the chipsets and not by the processors.

The Atom has been built on a different micro-architecture than those of the present dual core ones, and yet the Atom family contains the same instruction set as found in x86 processors as in the core architecture. The processors like the Pentium Pro, Pentium II and higher ran microinstructions not in order, where-as the Atom runs such instructions in order just like the first Pentium. This has enabled reduction in cost, since the components requited for sending and controlling microinstructions has been removed from the design.

Intel's Atom processor brings in the power of mobile Internet, as the smallest mobile Internet processor in the world. The Atom measures less than 25 square millimeters in size, with the 45nm-process chips having a thermal design specification of 0.6 to 2.5 Watt range, going up to a speed of 1.8 GHz.

The Atom family, the smallest of all processors, has certain reasons to be small. First, the Atom processors are all 32bit x86 chips, and by this Intel have done away with 64bit processing with a view that the MIDs of today's and tomorrow's are not going to be available with 64bit processing, there-by using less number of transistors. The concept has reduced the price of Atom processors.

Design features:

Most of the Atom family utilises the ability of using the idle processor time forming a virtual second processor, which is termed as “hyperthreading technology”. In this, the operating system looks at each of the core as dual processors, often called two threads. No doubt that this technology is less efficient than “dual core” systems, but then again it provides the system with extra performance. The clock speed of Atom processors remains the same even when idling, and does not clock down in idle state.

The Atom has been designed using 45 nanometer (nm) technology, which has made the Atom processor the smallest in the world. This has been possible with the reduction in the die size since the components going inside the semiconductor are smaller. As a comparison, the Celeron chip utilises 90nm technology, and each of the logical gates within it is four times the size of that of the Atom.

Devices built with Atom processors run cooler. While in the usual mobile processors the thermal design power (TDP) may top at 100 degree Celsius or more, the Atom family runs a bit cooler, topping at 90 degrees with some of the processors having a maximum of 85 degrees Celsius. This makes a lot of difference when you consider hand-held and pocket-sized MIDs. The processors do not only make the size of the devices smaller, but also reduces battery drain from cooling fans.


Intel's Atom processor has the smallest footprint, and with its low power consumption and intricate instruction sets, the processor has set a new standard in Internet computing. On an average the Atom family draws about 2watts of power, which makes it an ideal processor for mobile Internet device (MIDs), netlops, and netbooks.

One of the Atom family members, the N270 processor, has wide range of applications in industrial computing. The device with its low power consumption gives a superb thermal performance allowing fan-less operations. This becomes an important factor since, with the absence of moving parts, such as the fan, the overall reliability of the system designed increases appreciably, and there is no need to make provisions for vents in the design.

Critical evaluation:

What does the Atom family has to offer? It is quite interesting to note that Intel's Atom family has modern functions like, Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T), Supplemental Streaming SIMD Extension 3 (SSSE3), etc. put onto an older architecture. Since the Pentium, the Atom is the first to be x86 family of processors. The power management in the processors and their fabrication have been the two most important factors in cost saving at the expense of performance, and as such it does not make the Atom to be a competitor to Core 2 Duo.

Reports say that power consumption and attempt to integrate processors into portable or embedded devices have always been a problem for Intel. The Atom processors are not the first ones that Intel has attempted to bring out aimed at the same kinds of applications. However, the Atom family is radically different from others in the sense that Intel has a new architecture in the Atom which drastically reduces power consumption.

Few of the test results obtained while comparing the Atom against C7 and Celeron-M show that, the overall performance of Atom falls in between C7 and Celeron-M, when under an identical frequency condition. The tests were carried out in Netbooks with the frequency of C7 set to close to that of the Atom and the Celeron-M at a significantly lower frequency. It was concluded that the Atom based machines would have the same kind of performance as that of the machines that we have today.

Whatever it is, the battery life is of a great concern as far as portable machines are concerned. This is going to be an important factor for the user. It was found that cooling requirements in a desktop wind PC were much lower for an Atom based machine, and it can be concluded that it will be even lower in portable machines. In the event the Atom proves to be more battery efficient than Celeron-M, then we might see more Atom based Eee PC owners, with users selling off their Celeron-M based systems to upgrade to the Atom based ones.

Source by Prabir Sen