Microsoft's HoloLens uses unreleased Intel Atom chip

The holographic headset computer has the Cherry Trail chip, which will also be in tablets and low-end PCs

Microsoft Windows Holographic and the HoloLens headset will enable 3D gaming, like this demo of Minecraft played on an entire living room floor.

Microsoft Windows Holographic and the HoloLens headset will enable 3D gaming, like this demo of Minecraft played on an entire living room floor.

Microsoft's stunning HoloLens holographic computer, which stole the show at this week's Windows 10 event, runs on an unreleased Intel Atom chip code-named Cherry Trail, according to a source familiar with the hardware.

The HoloLens computer, which isn't yet commercially available, is an augmented reality headset that allows users to interact with 3D objects that show up as floating images, much like holographic projections. Users can wear HoloLens and then build 3D objects, chat on Skype or even play 3D games. HoloLens provides a new form of human-computer interaction beyond just screens.

Specific HoloLens hardware details were not shared at the show. Microsoft only said it has a CPU, graphics core and a holographic processing unit, called an "HPU." The CPU and GPU are based on Cherry Trail, which will also be used in tablets later this year, according to the source, who asked for anonymity.

Cherry Trail is a successor to Intel's current set of tablet and low-end PC chips code-named Bay Trail. Cherry Trail is smaller, has more features and is faster than Bay Trail, and is able to fit within the curved contours of the HoloLens. The chip is made using Intel's latest 14-nanometer manufacturing process, which is considered the most advanced in the semiconductor industry.

The success of HoloLens very much depends on its ability to recognize gestures and hand movements. Intel is bringing some gesture recognition capabilities to Cherry Trail, though it's unclear how the processing will be broken up between the CPU, graphics core and holo-processor.

A challenge with HoloLens will be to keep it free of wires during usage, and Cherry Trail has many such "wire-free" computing features.

For example, it may be possible for HoloLens to recharge wirelessly by placing it on a specific surface. Intel is bringing wireless charging features to Cherry Trail: tablets will also be able to recharge that way.

Devices with Cherry Trail will also be able to stream video wirelessly to larger screens through a technology called Wi-Di.

The mysterious part of HoloLens remains the HPU, which Microsoft characterized as a new type of processing unit.

The HoloLens has to do many calculations simultaneously to analyze and process all the information and pixels in 3D space, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

The HPU could be a vector or graphics processor that can recognize objects and handle the rendering and display of 3D images, McGregor said.

Or it could be an offshoot of Intel's Xeon Phi, which started off as a graphics processor -- code-named Larrabee -- and then morphed into a supercomputing chip designed to handle complex 3D imagery and math calculations. The Xeon Phi itself is too big to fit into the HoloLens, but the holographic processor could be an Intel "micro-engine" adaptation of the chip, McGregor said.

It's also possible that Microsoft developed its own HPU, but developing graphics and vector processors can take a lot of time and money. Microsoft perhaps developed the HPU in the form of a digital signal processor (DSP), widely used in mobile devices to handle specific functions like language and image recognition, and worked with Intel so the DSPs were compatible with Cherry Trail.

HoloLens is the hardware for Windows Holographic, an augmented reality platform in Windows 10. Microsoft hasn't provided a specific availability date, but HoloLens will ship after Windows 10 becomes available later this year.

Neither Microsoft nor Intel immediately responded to requests for comment.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags tabletsintelhardware systems

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

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?