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Summary:

Does Intel still stand a chance in the highly-competitive mobile chip market? Yes, if the company’s new Silvermont chip lives up to its promise of 3x the performance of today’s Atom or 5x the power efficiency.

Intel Atom S1200
photo: Intel

Once left for dead in the mobile market, Intel is showing signs of a potential comeback. On Monday, the company introduced its new Silvermont chip, promising three times more performance over existing Atom chips or the same current performance using five times less power.

What’s the secret sauce in the silicon? The chips will use a 22 nanometer process combined with Intel’s Tri-Gate transistors. The Tri-Gate technology is already used in Intel chips for laptops and desktops, but Silvermont will be the first to use it in mobile devices such as tablets.

AnandTech has a superbly detailed analysis of the new chip, which, according to Intel’s official press release, offers these benefits:

  • A new out-of-order execution engine enables best-in-class, single-threaded performance.
  • A new multi-core and system fabric architecture scalable up to eight cores and enabling greater performance for higher bandwidth, lower latency and more efficient out-of-order support for a more balanced and responsive system.
  • New IA instructions and technologies bringing enhanced performance, virtualization and security management capabilities to support a wide range of products. These instructions build on Intel’s existing support for 64-bit and the breadth of the IA software installed base.
  • Enhanced power management capabilities including a new intelligent burst technology, low-power C states and a wider dynamic range of operation taking advantage of Intel’s 3-D transistors. Intel Burst Technology 2.0 support for single- and multi-core offers great responsiveness scaled for power efficiency.

I expect we’ll first see Silvermont power a new generation of Windows 8 tablets around the holidays. The current Intel Atom slates running Windows 8 offer the same benefits and experiences of a similarly priced Windows RT slate with an ARM chip. The added benefit is that the tablets with Intel inside run the full Windows 8 software and provide a complete Desktop mode experience.

The downside is that the chips aren’t powerful enough to provided a superb Windows 8 experience; for that, buyers opt for Intel Core i5 chips and give up battery life in the process. If Intel’s claims of Silvermont are correct, however, a low-priced Windows 8 tablet of the future could offer a big performance boost when needed or provide battery savings if a user prefers it.

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  1. I remember saying three or four years ago that Intel was sitting on it’s laurels with the Atom. One can only wonder if Intel had picked up the pace sooner whether more powerful and capable netbooks would have kept the segment alive. I still believe a 10″ laptop has it’s uses.

  2. Bill Haynes Tuesday, May 7, 2013

    Critical issue will be how much the new chips cost, if they’re more than $15 Intel will face problems competing with ARM.

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