Intel was slow to embrace low-power chips, exec says

Intel first rejected the idea of a low-power processor before chasing it with Atom.

Intel engineers first began toying with a low-power microprocessor almost a decade ago, but their initial design was rejected by the company's top executives and the effort stalled soon after, an Intel executive said on Wednesday.

The initial concept behind Atom, Intel's new family of low-power chips for mobile devices, had its genesis in a research project at Intel's labs in 1999, but the idea was not "received enthusiastically" by Intel's senior staff, said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, during a speech at Intel's "research day" in Santa Clara, California.

The idea behind the first design was to take the Pentium microarchitecture and adapt it to deliver chips that could perform well but reduced power consumption to just a watt or two, Rattner said. He didn't say why Intel executives were cool to the idea, but the chip's development stalled soon after.

Intel resurrected the effort in 2002, when the company's labs in Austin, Texas, designed new a low-power microarchitecture that it called Snocone. The goal, again, was to create an x86 processor that performed fast enough to run typical PC applications but while conserving energy use, Rattner said. It took considerable testing and simulation until the labs were convinced that such a chip could be built, Rattner said.

Rattner didn't say why Intel resurrected its low-power efforts, but the emergence of what looked like a viable competitor probably had something to do with it. The Silicon Valley start-up Transmeta created a stir when it introduced its power-efficient Crusoe chip for laptops in 2000. Crusoe used some novel software tricks to translate instructions for the processor and conserve power. Ultimately the chip didn't perform as expected, but it likely gave Intel a wake-up call about the need for a low-power chip.

After the labs convinced Intel's management that such a chip could be built, development started in 2004. That began a development process that would ultimately lead to the release of first Atom chip this year. The Atom family includes chips code-named Silverthorne and Diamondville, and they are destined for a new class of mini-laptops like the Asus Eee PC, as well as even smaller Internet devices. They will compete there with chips from Via Technologies, as well as chips based on designs from Arm Ltd.

Rattner claimed that Atom is the fastest processor consuming 3 watts of power or less. It was derived from the Core 2 Duo microarchitecture and is being manufactured using a 45-nanometer process.

Intel's research labs are now working on chips that will consume even lesser power, Rattner said. The efforts include improving manufacturing technologies and further reducing power leakage on chips.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments





Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?