Intel will pull back the curtain on Silverthorne just a little more at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, which started Feb.3.
The chip maker will present more than a dozen technical papers that will range from a first look at its new quad-core Itanium processor to developments in new memory technology to an update on Intel’s tera-scale processor.
However, Intel will focus most of its attention on Silverthorne, which has been designed for what Intel executives call mobile Internet devices or MIDs. Since the 2007 Intel Developer Forum, company officials have been talking about the new 45-nanometer processor, but the ISSCC conference marks the first time the company’s engineers will talk about Silverthorne’s technical properties.
In an interview before the start of the ISSCC, Intel Senior Fellow and Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said that Silverthorne is a whole new chip built on the Intel Architecture and able to perform at a sub-one watt level, which means it uses 10 times less power than Intel’s ultra-low volt processor that uses about five watts of power.
The Silverthorne processor also contains Intel’s deep power-down technology and a split I/O power supply that Rattner said will allow for “much finer grain power management.” However, he did not discuss a specific clock speed or a specific performance per watt for Silverthorne.
“We believe that it’s a very impressive device,” Rattner said. “It has a very dynamic range, especially for a processor that can be active and operating at a sub-one watt level.”
Silverthorne has also been designed with an in-order instructional pipeline. Unlike an out-of-order pipeline that breaks data apart and allows for instructions to run in parallel, an in-order pipeline means the core will have to accept one set of instructions first before moving onto the next step. With Silverthorne, the chip will support two instructional threads, which will then allow two instructions to pass through with each cycle.
Intel’s technical paper did note that it would contain 512KB of L2 cache.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that building Silverthorne with an in-order pipeline means the processor will give up some performance. However, those types of tradeoffs are necessary when building a chip that uses less than two watts of power and for devices for users who want longer battery life.
Fueling Growth in Ultraportable Devices
“There are always tradeoffs, and in this case, Intel is trying to balance cost and the ability to deliver the power consumption levels needed for the devices that Silverthorne will go into,” Spooner said. “In terms of performance, Silverthorne doesn’t have to beat a Core 2 Duo or a Pentium or an [Advanced Micro Devices] Athlon.”
In an interview, Rattner compared Silverthorne to Intel’s Pentium processor, a comparison that served two purposes. First, Pentium was the last Intel chip to use an in-order pipeline and, second — and more importantly — the introduction of Pentium helped fuel growth in the PC market.
Intel hopes Silverthorne will fuel the same growth in ultraportable devices.
Silverthorne is also one of the smallest processors Intel has ever built. At 25 millimeters square, Rattner said a person would have to go back to the Intel 486 family of chips to find one as small as Silverthorne.
All of these factors — the in-order pipeline, the size, the low power consumption — are important when considering that Silverthorne is being built for portable Internet devices that can fit into a pocket, consume less power and have the ability to render rich media content, such as Web sites that contain Java script.
Intel has said it would begin shipping Silverthorne as part of its “Menlow” platform for MIDs by the first half of this year. The platform includes a new chip set called Poulsbo and some of the vendors that plan to offers these portable devices include Lenovo, Asus, Quanta and Clarion.
While it’s too soon to tell how fast customers will flock to these new types of devices or if other major vendors will develop their own MIDs, Spooner said Intel does view Silverthorne as the first piece in building a new computer market.
“Clearly Intel sees something in the platform,” Spooner said. “Up until now, these companies have not done a very good job at developing these devices and getting them out into the market. What you saw with Apple’s iPhone is that there is an interest in these types of handheld devices and that they could be sold to a fairly broad audience. The biggest issue is price. I think these types of devices have to get down to about $200 before they appeal to a very broad audience. That will take time.”