Intel has announced a new Atom processor for tablets, designed to take on ARM-derived processors at their own game.
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With the ARM ecosystem's domination of the phone and tablet market, Intel finds itself playing catchup. Can Oak Trail turn the corner for Intel on low-power devices?
Here's what you need to know about the new platform.
What is Oak Trail?
Oak Trail is the codename for Intel's new Atom platform, which consists of two chips. Like the Moorestown mobile phone-orientated platform, Oak Trail is a System on Chip (SoC) platform consisting of two chips – the new Intel Atom processor Z670 and the Intel SM35 Express Chipset.
The processor is 60 per cent smaller than previous generations with a lower-power design for fanless devices
The chipset has USB 2.0 – not 3.0 – but has Intel High-Definition Audio for media playback.
The Oak Trail platform is designed to enable thin form factors of all types, but is a fork in Intel's Atom roadmap; current-generation netbooks run the Pine Trail platform, which will transition to Cedar Trail by the end of 2011.
Oak Trail runs parallel to these plans.
Who will release Atom tablets?
Intel says that there will be as many as 35 new tablet designs this year from various vendors and that it remains committed to Atom.
Evolve III, Fujitsu Limited, Lenovo, Motion Computing, Razer and Viliv are named as launch partners for Atom-based devices – interesting gaming names there in addition to the business-focused Fujitsu, Lenovo and Motion.
What kind of devices will they be?
The Intel Atom Z670 will, according to Intel, enable manufacturers to create "smaller, thinner, fanless devices for mobile clinical assistants, industrial tablets and portable point-of-sales devices".
Intel clearly sees the processor as having plenty of applications – in healthcare especially.
What process technology is used in Oak Trail?
The Z670 uses 45nm process technology, but Intel has big plans for this space. "As we go from 45nm to 32 to 22nm in the 2013 timeframe we will have a competitive advantage in these markets," explained Kevin O'Donovan, strategic marketing manager for Intel in Europe.
The next generation of Atom to be launched is already being sent to manufacturers. It's called Cedar Trail and, as O'Donovan explains, it's aimed at more innovative, ultra thin netbooks based on 32nm technology as we head into 32nm.
"We are accelerating the Intel Atom product line to now move faster than Moore's law, bringing new products to market on three process technologies in the next 3 years," said Doug Davis, vice president and general manager of the Netbook and Tablet Group at Intel.
What new technologies will we see?
Intel says the new Intel Atom processor Z670, delivers "improved video playback, fast internet browsing and longer battery life, without sacrificing performance."
There's support for 1080p video decode, as well as HDMI and Adobe Flash – hopefully this will run properly rather than being as useful as a chocolate teapot in older versions of Atom.
The platform also helps deliver smaller, thinner and more efficient devices by packing integrated graphics and the memory controller directly onto the processor die.
How power efficient is Oak Trail?
"From the previous generation Pine Trail, which was 7 or 8W – we've made significant gains to 3W, explains O'Donovan. "A lot of that is [down to] changing the process technology from 65nm to 45nm… it enables significant gains – less power leakage.
"We've also built in Intel SpeedStep technology as well as enhanced deeper sleep states to the CPU so when it's in sleep mode it switches off more of its own memory and moves things around."
The enhanced sleep states are called Intel Enhanced Deeper Sleep, and Intel SpeedStep technology balances the power requirement of mobile systems with the efficiency required from a mobile device.
And what might we see in the future?
Intel's purchase of Infineon's wireless tech arm last year will enable it to provide more wireless technologies inside the chip as we move toward future generations of Atom. Intel also isn't shy about saying that its purchase of McAfee will also help it on the security side of things.
"As we head into 2013 with 22nm you'll see a lot more SoC (System on Chip) features with more wireless technology and security features," adds O'Donovan.
What operating systems does Oak Trail support?
The new platform is designed to give manufacturers economy of scale, with support for Windows 7, Google Chrome OS and Android as well as Intel's OS partnership with Nokia, MeeGo.
"We do believe that Apple, Google, Microsoft and MeeGo will be the ecosystems of the future," says O'Donovan.
What potential does Intel see for Oak Trail?
"We see huge opportunity here," continues O'Donovan. "We see tablets and netbooks being complementary devices to your primary computing device. It's a cumulative growth for the IT industry.
And on the support for multiple operating systems? "We see it a compelling advantage. As you say the world will evolve, Windows 8 will be coming, ARM will [provide more].
"There are great devices out there – people are asking for more performance. All of this will require computing capability – that's our strong point. We have to deliver it at low power.
"Our competitor [ARM] has the low power but will need to move up the food chain in terms of computing power. The competition isn't going to sit still. The customer will win."
What about Cedar Trail?
Cedar Trail is Intel's upcoming "netbook and entry-level desktop platform" based on 32nm process technology. According to the company it will deliver features including Intel Wireless Music, Intel Wireless Display, PC Synch and Fast Boot, as well as improvements in media, graphics and power consumption.
As well as enabling fanless designs, there will be Blu-ray 2.0 support, a dedicated media engine for full 1080p playback and additional digital display options including HDMI output and DisplayPort. Now that'll be a powerful netbook – coming late 2011.
When will we see tablets featuring the Atom Z670?
Intel says we'll see devices featuring the Atom Z670 starting in May and "throughout 2011".