Intel Starts Shipping Atom for PCs

The chip maker is betting that its Atom processors will create a new market for low-cost notebooks and desktops.

Intel is preparing to ship the first of its new line of Atom processors for a emerging category of low-cost PCs that the chip maker is calling netbooks and nettops.

Intel announced the availability of two Atom processors-the Atom N270 processor and the Atom 230 chip-at the 2008 Computex conference in Taiwan. The company also detailed a pair of new chip sets-the 945GSE for Netbooks and the 945GC for Nettops-that feature integrated graphics and support for numerous I/O ports.

These Atom processors, formally known as Diamondville, will give Intel a base to create a new line of low-cost notebooks and desktops that are designed for emerging market countries and the education market. Some analysts also believe that smaller businesses might use these PCs as low-cost alternatives for workers that travel a lot and need a compact, light-weight notebook that can access the Internet and basic applications, such as e-mail.

The IT industry began to take a keen interest in low-cost notebooks after AsusTek introduced the first Eee PC, an early version of this line of PCs that used a low-watt Intel processor. AsusTek is expected to upgrade the Eee PC with Atom later this year and a number of other vendors, including market leaders Hewlett-Packard and Dell, are each looking to enter the market.

In a recent report, IDC found that the market for these PCs, which will cost between $250 and $350 for notebooks, could be worth $3 billion by 2012, although Intel CEO Paul Otellini has put that number much higher.

Intel is not alone in looking to jump into the market with low-watt, x86 processors. Via Technologies announced last month that it had created a whole new line of processors dubbed Nano, which it plans to offer to major PC vendors and white-box makers.

1-Watt Wonder

The Atom processors for PCs are based on a derivative of a new Intel chip formally called Silverthorne that the company created for what it calls MIDs or mobile Internet devices. These chips are based on the Intel architecture, offer one processing core with two instructional threads and have thermal envelopes that range from 2.5 watts to 4 watts, although Intel believes most will use less than 1 watt of power within the types of PCs that vendors are building.

The Atom N270, which is designed specifically for Netbooks, and the Atom 230, which is geared toward low-cost desktops, both have 1.6GHz clock speeds, 512KB of L2 cache and a 533MHz FSB (front side bus). The chips are built on the company's 45-nanometer manufacturing process and measure 22 millimeters square. (The first Atom processors for MIDs were 25-mm square.)

The Intel hardware is capable of supporting both Linux and versions of Microsoft Windows XP.

In addition to providing the platform for these PCs, Intel is offering to its own Z-P140 PATA (Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment) Solid State Drives, which offer between 2GB and 4GB of capacity.

In addition to Atom, Sean Maloney, Intel's chief sales and marketing officer, announced that the company should begin shipping its new Centrino 2 platform for notebooks July 14-after problems with the graphics and the platform's WiMax licensing in the United States forced Intel to cancel a June launch.

The company is planning to ship notebooks with WiMax and Wi-Fi capabilities in the United States by the second half of the year, although availability is expected to be limited.