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Thursday, July 24, 2008, 03:25 pm PT (06:25 pm ET)

Intel may cater to Apple with system-on-a-chip, dual-core Atom

Intel's options for Apple and other customers interested in ultra-portable devices are about to expand thanks to the official launch of an all-in-one processor and a dual-core version of its Atom processor.

The semiconductor firm on Thursday revealed the elaborately titled EP80579 Integrated Processor as its first chip to build in every feature of a mobile chipset into one package.

Where the company's earlier technology needs both a discrete processor as well as separate chipsets for video or interfacing with peripherals, the Integrated Processor includes all of this in one component; it's also relatively fast and uses a Pentium M as its main processor with a relatively recent graphics core capable of drawing pixel effects seen in software of recent years.

The component is fast for the system-on-a-chip category, but is more importantly small and a power miser. Compared to a normal system, which would need four chips to achieve the same effect, the Integrated Processor's mainboard takes up about 45 percent less space and is 34 percent more power-efficient, chewing up as little as 11 watts for the entire design.

In contrast to Atom, which in its present incarnation is too large for most small devices, the new chip is expressly meant for the embedded market and runs at very low speeds which peak at 1.2GHz. That can include commercial and industrial applications but is also tailored for very consumer-friendly Mobile Internet Devices that double as portable media players and Internet communicators.

Whether this is immediately useful to Apple is far from a certainty, as the power use is too high for an iPhone-sized device but offers too little performance for its current notebook range. Nonetheless, the breakthrough would also apply to set-top boxes and shares the same processor core as the Apple TV, which uses an under-clocked Pentium M with a basic dedicated graphics chipset that gives just enough performance to play 720p HD video.

However useful this new invention may be, Apple may have an additional choice in very small processors in as little as two months' time.

A new processor model leak suggests Intel will unveil a 1.6GHz, dual-core variant of its Atom processor on September 21st. The processor will likely be too power-hungry for Apple's planned multi-touch tablet — consuming a rumored 8W of power just by itself — but is expected to become the champion of very small budget notebooks with a price tag of just $43 per chip in large batches.

Like the single-core processor already on sale, the dual-core model will use the Hyperthreading technology that first appeared in the Pentium 4 to mirror some of the performance that would normally come from an additional real-world core.

Apple has been shy regarding its own plans, although AppleInsider has exclusively revealed that the Mac maker is likely to become a major supporter of Atom with more than one product scheduled for this year that would be based on the architecture.

Additionally, Intel itself reveals that the two technologies mentioned today will merge as soon as 2009 in Moorestown, a new Atom-based plaform that should be faster and more efficient than the first-generation Integrated Processor and small enough to fit in a smartphone like Apple's iPhone.