Intel's just unveiled two new chips in its ground-breaking Atom range of CPUs, one year to the day the first chip was launched. A cause for celebration for one main reason: Without the Atom we probably would not have netbooks. And Intel's just made sure the class of diminutive PCs has a bright future.
The first of the two chips is the Z550 which runs at 2GHz—the fastest yet for an Atom—and Intel's branding it as "setting a new standard for the highest performance processor in the under-3-watt power envelope." In fact it consumes just 2.4 watts, which is around the same as the current Atoms, but it's obviously more powerful thanks to its higher clock speed. The tiny chip also simulates multi-core operations by having hyperthreading, so it can actually achieve more than "normal" single-core CPUs.
The other chip, the Z515, is unique according to Intel because it can actually ramp up and down its core clock speed—running at 800MHz when only low-power demands are made of it, and speeding up to 1.2GHz when more power is required. This means it consumes 1.4 watts when running at max, but just 0.65 watts when idling.
Why are these two devices interesting? Because when they arrive in netbooks and mobile internet devices late this year and early next, one will offer more computing power than current chips, but consume the same amount of electricity, and the other will offer similar power to existing Atoms, but consume much less power. And since one of the core features of netbooks versus notebooks is their proclaimed battery longevity this can only be a good thing. At the same event Intel also teased a practical version of its completely next-gen Atom range, based on a smaller 45nm fab process and tweaked chip architecture—both of which contribute to a 10-fold improvement in power efficiency.
Seems the netbooks, mini-tablets and MIDs we'll see late this year are going to be very interesting machines indeed—-maybe even reinjecting some life into the netbook genre, which is lately becoming slightly muddled.