I’m pretty jazzed about Intel’s Atom processor. Is it small? Sure. Cool? Yes, literally and figuratively. So why am I so jazzed? Why such a big deal about a little processor? Read on…………….
First and foremost – Atom represents a significant departure from what we’ve come to expect from Intel. It would almost be like Microsoft releasing a build of Linux (well, OK, maybe not that radical). Atom is all about “just enough” – just enough speed, just enough performance, just enough of everything.
Remember – we’re talking about Intel here. Intel – the core king. Intel – the horsepower junkie’s enabler. Multi-core, multi-socket, HUGE memory footprint Intel.
So – what is Atom? Pulling from Atom’s Product Brief –
· Up to 1.86GHz (core), 533 MHz FSB
· 2.5 watts TDP
· 45nm process
· Enhanced low power sleep states
· Dynamic L2 cache sizing
· SSE2 and SSE3 support
· Embedded lifecycle support
So what’s the big deal? Take a close look at bullets 2, 5, and 8.
Consuming roughly 2 and a half watts for a 1.86GHz clock is unheard of. Think of this in terms of previous (and current) mobile CPU power consumption. Think new lows in low power. Think solar panel low. Think portable radio low. Think small batteries and a decent lifespan on that battery.
Does 2.5 watts get you interested? How about new sleep states that flush the cache during periods of inactivity, further reducing power use and extending battery life? If you flush the cache, you don’t need to power the cache to maintain data.
Embedded Lifecycle Support
If you’re relatively new to embedded, this won’t mean much at first blush – but does an expected lifespan of 7 years appeal to you? 7 years for a core component in the PC market? Yes, 7 years of expected availability, without change.
Where does Atom work best? Remember my “just enough” comments? Take a look at the Windows Task Manager on an average desktop PC and move over to the Performance tab. See the graphs? Those graphs show you two important system status on two key functions: memory and CPU usage.
Now, take a look at your average CPU usage (disregard the peaks you see when you start an application – just watch the graph and mentally look at the average). What do you see? I’m looking at mine as I write this and see the following:
When I took this cap I was running the following applications:
Microsoft Word – 3 documents open
Microsoft Outlook – main application and 3 message open
Two copies of a browser
One LARGE spreadsheet
Corporate AV running real time protection is running as well
1085 threads and 61 processes running
CPU usage? Hovering around 8%. Yup, 8% is all I’m using. I’ve done this a couple of times over the last week or so and have seen consistent results around the 8% to 10% mark. So by that measure, my current CPU is overkill for my usage. I’d venture that if you do this yourself, you will see similar results.
So – how does Atom help? Atom certainly isn’t a barn burner by current standards. At “only” 1.86GHz at the top speed bin, you may be thinking “that is so slow it would barely run GoogleChrome” but in the case above, Atom would be enough.
Just enough for a new way of thinking
Where Atom will shine first is in low power, extended life mobile devices. It has enough horsepower to run XP and a host of applications. Can you compile a few hundred thousand lines of code while you watch a DVD movie and crunch a long SQL query AND render a 3D image? No. But when was the last time you did that? No, Atom isn’t going to replace multi-core, high performance processors in the mainstream computing market, but it will be an ideal fit in a new generation of ultra mobility designs and has enough “oomph” to run modern operating systems.
Only the market will tell if Atom is a hit, or I’m nuts.
I’m hoping the former.