New Technology from Intel for 2009: MID Atom Centrino Platform, Nehalem Processor

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As we roll through 2009 Intel’s tiny, super-low power consumption chips have been around for a while, but they still aren’t everywhere. There is a good chance they will be next year. Intel is currently having trouble keeping up with demand for them so they are ramping up production.

Perfect for the growing number of sub-notebook netbooks, Eee PCs, and variously named devices that aren’t quite as big or expensive as a laptop but do a lot of the things a laptop can do, there is certainly a market for the high-end Atom processors. The lower end Atoms will find homes in things like smart phones, electronic readers and other portable media devices.

A device using an Atom CPU, teamed with an Intel chipset (including graphics) and wireless network, wins the Atom Centrino designation. The Centrino laptop brand was, and continues to be, as Centrino 2, a huge marketing success. Intel would love to see people think of Atom Centrino every time they think of smart phones, mini-notebooks, or anything else that has to be small, have a long battery life, and get online (collectively called MIDs for Mobile Internet Devices).


The new CPU architecture from Intel is codenamed Nehelem. The first CPUs to use it (codenamed Bloomfield) will be for the desktop and available before year end. Nehelem CPUs will replace the Core CPUs in the Centrino 2 specification from 2008 (codenamed Montevina) in Q3 2009 as part of next year’s Centrino 2 spec; Calpella.

The Nehalem uses a new motherboard socket called LGA1366. The first chipset to offer the new socket will be the X58 (codenamed Tylersburg)

There is a lot to say about Nehalem, and not a lot of room here. Stay tuned for a series that will put together everything we could find out about the new chip.

SSD or Solid State Drives

OK, Intel didn’t invent these, and they certainly don’t own the market. SSDs (explained here) from Samsung, OCZ and others have been around for a while. Since an SSD can be thought of kind of like a giant USB memory stick you never take out and use as a hard disk, it makes sense that big names in hard drives and memory are out in front. When something with Intel’s size and reputation throws its hat in your ring though, you notice.

Intel has finally released some SSDs and these have done little to bring prices down yet. If everything works out reasonably well though, prices will come down and usage will pick up, and a lot faster than if Intel wasn’t competing in the market. By late 2010, Non-Solid State Drives may begin to be considered somewhat dated in the laptop market, where the SSD’s power consumption and shock resistance advantages are more important.


This name has been around for a while, and it won’t hit retail until the second half of ’09, but its impact in the long run could be very significant.

In some sense Larrabee is a graphics processor, like those developed by nVidia and AMD/ATI, but it is put together very differently. It will be a many-core processor; like a Duo or Quad CPU but with more cores. The cores will be smaller and less powerful than CPU cores (they are actually heavily redesigned Pentiums) but will be similar in other ways.

Larrabee cores runs an extended version of the same x86 instruction set used by your CPU (be it a PC or post-2006 Mac). The extension allows the developers to use the chips more effectively for graphics, but the x86 base means they can also do things in a similar way to a CPU. For instance, a portable video player is all about graphics, needing just enough normal processing to let you deal with menus and such. Devices like this may be better off with a Larrabee style processor than an Atom.

Because Larrabee is based around a variable number of cores, it is incredibly scalable. The aforementioned portable video player and entry level graphics cards might use 4 or 8, with high-end graphics cards using 12 or 16, and even triple digit numbers of cores for specialized enterprise configurations.

Most likely to the chagrin of nVidia and ATI, the first thing Intel plans to use Larrabee for is a discrete graphics card.