New Atom processors get announced early

Performance lacking but power frugal

INTEL’S NEW ATOM processors were expected to launch in early January, but it seems like Intel had a change of heart and decided to announce the new processor family today. The Atom N450, D410 and D510 are all now official alongside the NM10 chipset and Intel’s “new” GMA3150 IGP that’s now an integral part of the CPU packaging. However, what many are waiting to find out is if Intel’s new Atom platform will offer any advantages for the end user.

So far we’ve seen some early performance figures for the desktop platforms, the Atom D410 and D510, but all those figures told us that we shouldn’t expect much of an application performance improvement over the previous generation platform. Even less so when paired up with Nvidia’s Ion chipset, but that’s a different story. Intel didn’t give any indication whatsoever in the press release with regards to performance numbers, but did mention the TDP of the new chips.

The Atom D410 kit as Intel puts it (that’s CPU and the NM10 chipset) has a TDP of a fairly unimpressive 12W, which the dual core D510 bests at 15W (again together with the NM10). Yes, the IGP is built into the CPU packaging, but considering that the Atom 330 plus the 945GC and ICH7 have a combined TDP of about 17W, this isn’t a huge improvement. On the mobile side things are a little better with the N450 and the NM10 having a TDP of 7W compared to almost 12W for the Atom N270 and the 945GSE chipset.

It might not be as important to lower the thermals and power draw of the desktop parts, but we feel Intel could have done a better job here, as the reduction is next to nothing compared to the previous generation. On the mobile side of things it looks like Intel has made a serious improvement and in the N450 combination with the NM10 chipset it is getting close to Intel’s Silverthorne Atom processors combined with the US15W chipset.

The lower TDP and the two chip design in the mobile space should not just allow for longer battery life, but also simpler cooling designs. We might even end up with some passively cooled netbooks and all of this should lead to lower BOM costs for the manufacturers and hopefully this will mean cheaper netbooks in the long run. However, it seems like we’ll have to wait until the 4th of January to find out what most of Intel’s partners have been working on in terms of hardware, as that’s the day when Intel has said its partners can launch devices.

That hasn’t stopped Asus from handing out a few review sample, for example to Engadget, of its upcoming Eee PC 1005PE. It got a chance to run a few benchmarks on that and, much like the desktop parts that we’ve already seen some benchmarks of, the N450 doesn’t prove to be particularly much faster than the N280. However, the battery life seems to have been improved, although Engadget’s battery test comparison isn’t exactly fair, as the 1005PE has a 5800mAh battery and it’s comparing that to the 1008HA, which has a weak 2900mAh battery. Still, the 1005PE gets twice the battery life over the 1008HA in what Engadget refers to as a heavy load test. It also managed to get ten and a half hours of battery life out of the 1005PE during light load with the WiFi enabled. It should hit retail for about $380, which puts it at a slight price advantage over the 1008HA.

Intel has put up a promotional video on YouTube that shows off a few upcoming devices, and although it’s not giving away many details, we can make out a passively cooled Dell and a Fujitsu with rounded corners as well as a new classmate PC. It seems like Intel wants to keep the hype up, although we’re not sure how much you can hype an entry level platform.

On the desktop side of things ECS is the first company out with a new mini-ITX motherboard called the TIGT-I that features the D510. The CPU and chipset are passively cooled by a rather large heatsink. ECS has outfitted the board with two PS/2 ports, a serial and parallel port, a D-sub connector, four USB 2.0 ports, 10/100Mbit Ethernet, three audio jacks, two headers for additional USB 2.0 ports, two SATA ports and a single PCI Express x1 connector. The board also has two memory slots for DDR2 800MHz memory, but the memory controller is only single channel, which means there’s no performance benefit to adding more than one memory module.

Overall we can’t say that we’re blown away, but that wasn’t really expected either. It’s just a shame that Intel didn’t do a little bit more to improve the Atom platform. It’s very clear now that Intel doesn’t want the Atom to compete with its other product ranges. It also seems like Nvidia’s next generation Ion solution is going to be bandwidth starved, as it doesn’t look like the new range of Atom processors will offer a lot of PCI Express bandwidth, which is a bad thing for external graphics.S|A

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