Despite CES 2008 being all about brand new displays and TVs, we got some of the most interesting information at the show from Intel, about microprocessors.

All smartphones, including the iPhone, suffer from poor performance.  These devices all run highly integrated System on a Chip (SoC) designs, where power consumption matters first and foremost, with performance being a distant second consideration.  Software compatibility is also a major concern, as the entire world of mobile and smart phones run on a tremendous number of incompatible platforms.  A single software application or game must be at least recompiled if not re-written for virtually every single device it's going to go on. 

In stark contrast to all of this is the PC; performance is job number one, and only recently has power consumption even begun to factor into the equation.  Software compatibility is also ensured thanks to the fact that the x86 instruction set is the de-facto standard in the PC industry. 

The problem is that PC system architectures don't translate well into small, ultra low power devices like smartphones.  What's necessary is a ground-up design, aimed specifically at those markets.  Intel realized this early on in the evolution of mobile processors. In order to make a truly mobile PC, Intel could not simply repackage a desktop/server CPU, it needed something specifically designed for the mobile market.  Thus the first Centrino platform was born, and now five years later, we're dealing with a very mature platform.

The need for even more powerful, even more mobile devices is now upon us.  The demands we have on our smartphones are ever increasing, we want the functionality of a notebook, but in something the size of an iPhone.  It's time for another revolutionary change, akin to what Centrino was for notebooks.  Intel learned its lesson with Centrino, which became a very successful brand for the company.  Now Intel hopes to go above and beyond what Centrino ever was, for ultra mobile devices.

It all started with devices like the Portable Media Center and the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC), devices designed to bring certain features of your PC with you on the go, without the bulk of a notebook.  The interface was also supposed to be mobile optimized; just as Microsoft discovered with Media Center and as Intel did with Centrino, in order to make an ultra mobile device work, it could not simply use the same interface as a desktop OS - it needed something new and specialized. 

Unfortunately, these devices failed miserably.  They were either too big, too expensive, too slow or too impractical to use.  The reasons for their failure were simple: the hardware wasn't fast enough and the software was too slow.  UMPCs were the perfect example; most of them run Vista, but they don't have the hardware to run it fast enough to be usable and since they use components designed for much larger notebooks, battery life suffers greatly.  The level of integration on the silicon side is also a problem; these UMPCs are far too big. 

Apple realized these problems early on, and didn't jump on the UMPC bandwagon.  Instead, it created a mobile-optimized OS and stuck it on a smartphone.  The end result was that the iPhone was born with the most elegant smartphone interface onthe market.  However, Apple used mostly off the shelf components for the iPhone, so despite its speedy interface, the phone itself could still benefit from a faster processor.  The iPhone is also Apple's only non-x86 product in its current lineup, meaning that software portability between the iPhone/iPod, the Apple TV and its Macs isn't ideal.

Intel came to its senses around the same time as Apple, but instead of building a killer device with the components available on the market today, Intel set out to do for ultra mobile devices what it did for notebooks with Centrino.  The platform is codenamed Menlow, and we finally have more details on it. 

Meet Menlow
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  • n0nsense - Sunday, January 13, 2008 - link

    I don't like intel.
    Usually it does something good only when they have no other choice (like Core architecture).
    The x86 is not good from the very beginning decades ago. But greater evil is there. It's name Microsoft. They just want you to use what they designed to get money from you instead of designing For You with user in mind.
    And the only thing that make me smile, is expected percentage of devices based on this platform that will run MS products.
    Actually Linux rules in mobile/efficient devices world.
    As for the software compatibility on different platforms, Java does the job.
    And the Linux world does know how to work with different platforms. Most distributions available for several architectures.
    So, the most important thing is to have size/power/performance in right combination.
    It will be very sad if intel will succeed to kill other architectures.
    Reply
  • Boissez - Friday, January 11, 2008 - link

    I've just checked the numbers... And I just can't see how this 47M transistor processor clocked slower than the 77M Pentium M can perform similarly.

    I know that there has been som architectural tweaks meanwhile... but still we're talking about a 3x improvement (assuming the 600mhz part=1000 Mhz Pentium M) - If those performance claims are true I'm inpressed.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Friday, January 11, 2008 - link

    Actually, most of the differences between the 47 million and 77 million is cache. If you look at the core alone, its not much different. Of course, it will impact performance...

    Pentium 2x8KB=3.1 million
    Pentium Pro 2x8KB L1=5.5 million
    Pentium II 2x16KB L1=7.5 million
    Pentium III 2x16KB L1=9.5 million
    Conroe/Merom 2x32KB L1=19 million
    Silverthorne 32KB iL1, 24KB dL1=10 million??

    Silverthorne's core transistor count is estimated at 10 million. Maybe it can perform like a Pentium III 512KB cache with SSE3. Anyway, it has 512KB L2 cache so...
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Saturday, January 12, 2008 - link

    The estimated performance of Silverthorne:

    1.86GHz:
    50-60% faster in multi-thread than A110
    Similar in single thread to A110

    1.1GHz:
    A110 MT performance
    A100 ST performance

    (A100=600MHz/512KB/400MHz FSB/Dothan)
    (A110=800MHz/512KB/400MHz FSB/Dothan)

    When Intel says "similar" performance to 2004 notebooks, they are referring to ULVs. ULVs are clocked at 900MHz-1.1GHz. Take a look at Intel's technical documentations for their ULV processors. You'll notice that the performance increase has been almost flat even with the architectural/process improvements. They wouldn't have been able to make a 0.5W CPU without a substantial architectural overhaul.

    Pentium M 130nm ULV
    1.1GHz 7W 400MHz

    Pentium M 90nm ULV
    773 1.3GHz 5.5W 400MHz

    Core Duo ULV
    U2500 1.2GHz 9W 533MHz

    Core Solo ULV
    U1500 1.33GHz 5.5W 533MHz

    Core 2 Duo ULV
    U7600 1.33GHz-10W 533MHz

    Core 2 Solo ULV
    U2200 1.2GHz-5.5W 533Mhz

    For two generations ahead in architecture and process technology, the latest ULV CPU offers much less than it does on desktops and laptops.
    Reply
  • ajuez - Friday, January 18, 2008 - link

    I think thet the Via C7-M ULV is similar in approach to the Silverthorne processor: very simple architecture focused on power consumption and cost.

    The VIA C7-M ULV consumes 3.5W (according to http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/processors/c7-m_...">http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/processors/c7-m_... )

    However, Intel has the advantage of their manufacturing technology (Silverthorne is a 45nm processor, while C7 is a 90nm processor). I hope Via to update their processor with a better process (55nm?)
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - link

    Maybe we are all confused after Intel introduced the Core 2 Duo. From what I can remember, its only worthy product that came out of the company for many years. All the chipsets after 865/875 were mediocre, and everything else is just a flop.

    I heard that Menlow is headed by the same guy that made a failed XScale and Itanium. Maybe its gonna be another flop. Currently, the only thing that Menlow is sure to bring is the size. Everything else, like battery life and performance is looking gloomy every day.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Friday, January 11, 2008 - link

    Way less cache, cache is the biggest use of transistors on chips designed for PCs. Cut the cache to say 256k (which is enough for a device running entirely off of flash) and you save a lot of transistors. Reply
  • TA152H - Friday, January 11, 2008 - link

    What's processor cache got to do with Flash drives?

    Processor cache speeds up RAM accesses, RAM cache can be used (and is normally) to cache hard disk accesses, and that's probably what you're thinking of. But they're two different things.

    I agree though, transistors are not the same as size. You can pack memory transistors much more closely than logic, and it can seriously impact transistor count while less seriously increasing the size (and cost) of the processor.
    Reply
  • iwodo - Friday, January 11, 2008 - link

    If Silverthrone is really that powerful i think it can used as a NAS Chip.

    All current NAS are so underpower and dont provide fast enough transfer due to CPU limitations. Windows Home Server kind of remove the performance barrier since it require Desktop class PC.

    However they are also more power hungry too.

    I hope Apple use this as their base for Apple Home server
    Reply
  • Shadowmage - Thursday, January 10, 2008 - link

    Anand:

    Nice article, but you spelled "Bonnell" wrong.

    Menlow consists of the Silverthorne processor and the Poulsbo chipset. If you're in dire need of yet another codename, the core used in Silverthorne is also known as Bonnenn.
    Reply

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