Details on Intel’s Next Generation "Cedar Trail" Atom Platformby Kristian Vättö on April 29, 2011 12:04 AM EST
Last August in our Atom N550 article, we hinted that Intel will release their next generation Atom platform in mid-2011. As we mentioned in that article, the codename for this platform is “Cedar Trail”, and today we have some further details to share. Cedar Trail (and the Cedarview-D processors) won’t quite make it out in mid-2011 as we previously reported; they are now slated for a Q4 2011 release.
The CPU and GPU are a single die based on Intel's 32nm technology. The smaller process allows Intel to boost the clock speeds while keeping TDP the same or even lowering it. Cedar Trail will continue to use the same NM10 chipset as its predecessor, with two models at its introduction. The following table summarizes the current and near-future Intel Atom lineup.
|Intel’s Atom Lineup|
|L2 Cache (KB)||512||1024||512||1024||1024||1024|
The core architecture remains unchanged, so CPU performance should be the same as previous Atom processors, only with higher clock speeds. We won’t see a new Atom architecture until mid- to late-2012. Interesting to note is that no single-core Atom CPUs are listed at present, so both Pineview-D processors are dual-core, only the D2500 disables Hyper-Threading support. It should be a decent upgrade from the previous single-core + HTT D425, but overall CPU performance will end up lower than the D525 in situations that can leverage four threads. The D2700 on the other hand is a straight 16% clock speed increase over the D525. We’ll have to see how that translates into real-world application performance when the chips arrive.
The roadmap also indicates the possibility of a marginal update to Intel’s existing Pine Trail lineup in Q3 2011. If that happens, it will likely consist of 2.0GHz single-core and dual-core Atom chips, but without the GPU upgrades will continue to struggle with video content.
The most interesting bit of information is probably the IGP, where we unfortunately have only vague details for now. Cedar Trail will feature full support for DirectX 10.1 and HD decoding (MPEG2, VC1, AVC, and H.264) with Blu-Ray 2.0 support. The display options have also been greatly improved, including HDMI 1.3a, DisplayPort 1.1, eDP (embedded DisplayPort), LVDS, and VGA. The IGP will also be able to drive up to two displays. A block diagram indicates that Intel is adding a “Media” functional unit to the chip, but that’s likely just a part of the IGP.
There is no word about the IGP architecture, clock speeds, or supported resolutions. Presumably it will use a cut down version of Arrandale’s HD Graphics, possibly with a lower EU count (e.g. 6 EUs instead of 12). Regardless, the IGP will be a big step up from GMA 3150 with lots of new features. Most importantly, it finally solves the issue of HD video playback support. Overall performance is still a bit of a mystery, so we cannot give any concrete numbers, but we still have enough to get started.
The big question is going to be how these new Atoms stack up against AMD’s Brazos. The AMD E-350 beat the D510 quite easily, which is the same chip as D525 but with a 166MHz (8%) lower clock speed. Outside of the GPU improvements, the D2700 should only be around 16% faster than D525, which means the E-350 might come in slower in certain CPU tests. However, single-threaded performance is still likely to be faster on E-350—we’d estimate up to a 25% lead in some use cases. Since heavily threaded workloads are not the domain of Atom (or Brazos), it looks as though the E-350 will continue to be very competitive. The E-350 does have a higher 18W TDP, which does work against it somewhat, but it turned out to do much better in our energy efficient tests. Power will be a far bigger concern on laptops and netbooks, however, so we won’t worry much about that aspect for now.
The other point of comparison is in the graphics arena. The E-350’sRadeon HD 6310 IGP is a powerhouse. It’s about as fast as the Intel HD 2000 found in some of the Sandy Bridge CPUs. Unless Cedar Trail’s IGP uses HD 2000 rather than Arrandale’s HD Graphics, it will still be behind AMD’s offerings. As we’ve noted elsewhere, however, gaming on either platform is so heavily CPU-limited that you’ll want to stick with older titles. Since we know very little about the IGP in Cedar Trail, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions, and driver quality is still a point of contention. At least Atom is finally getting an upgrade from the stone-age GMA 950/3150 era, which will hopefully enable HD streaming video.
Ultimately, Cedar Trail continues from where the Pine Trail left us, meaning that it will be targeted at sub-$300 netbooks, although it is possible that the D2700 could find its way into ~$400 laptops/netbooks as well. Like previous generations, these new Atoms are intended for basic computing tasks, such as web browsing, email, and instant messaging. Intel doesn’t want to take away sales from their more capable platforms, so for example the Celeron B810 should be at least three times faster than D2700 for only about $75 more (including a basic motherboard). Intel also continues to suggest 1GB of RAM for Atom setups, and as long as nettop and netbook vendors adhere to that recommendation Atom will underwhelm.