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Monday, March 03, 2008, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple-bound "Silverthorne" chip now dubbed "Atom"

Intel Corp. said this weekend that "Intel Atom" will be the official name for its new family of low-power processors designed specifically for mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and a new class of simple and affordable Internet-centric computers arriving later this year.

Formally code-named "Silverthorne," the chip is expected to turn up in several Apple products starting in the second half of the year. It's based on an entirely new microarchitecture designed specifically for small devices and low power, yet maintains the Intel Core 2 Duo instruction set, allowing it to run the same applications as today's Intel-based notebook and desktop systems.

The chip, which includes support for multiple threads, measures less than 25 mm², making it Intel's smallest and lowest power processor yet. "Up to 11 Intel Atom processor die — the tiny slivers of silicon packed with 47 million transistors each — would fit in an area the size of an American penny," the chipmaker said in a statement.

Silverthorne chips sport a thermal design power (TDP) specification in 0.6-2.5 watt range and scale to 1.8GHz speeds depending on customer need. By comparison, today's mainstream mobile Core 2 Duo processors have a TDP in the 35-watt range.

"This is our smallest processor built with the world's smallest transistors," said Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney. "This small wonder is a fundamental new shift in design, small yet powerful enough to enable a big Internet experience on these new devices. We believe it will unleash new innovation across the industry."

In addition to MIDs, Intel believes Atom will serve to meet demand for a new category of low-cost, Internet-centric mobile computing devices dubbed "netbooks" and basic Internet-centric desktop PCs dubbed "nettops," which are expected to grow in popularity substantially over the next several years.



In conjunction with the official naming of Silverthrone, Intel also announced that it has changed the name of the chip's supporting platform — formally "Menlow" — to "Intel Centrino Atom." It bundles the Intel Atom processor, a low-power companion chip with integrated graphics, a wireless radio, and thinner and lighter designs.

As was reported by AppleInsider this past September, Apple is expected to emerge as one of the largest proponents of Atom/Silverthorne, with current plans calling for the Cupertino-based Mac maker to incorporate the chips in a number of its products, most likely beginning with the redesigned Newton handheld.