Understanding Atom: Three Models for the Same CPU

Let me clear up some naming confusing regarding Atom. While there’s only one Atom processor, it comes in two different versions: Silverthorne and Diamondville. Silverthorne is the version intended for use in MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices), it’s a part of the Z5xx series. Diamondville is the version intended for desktops, notebooks and netbooks - it’s the N2xx, 2xx and 3xx series. The N2xx is used for netbooks, while the 2xx and 3xx are used for desktops. The 3xx is a dual core version of Diamondville. The 2xx and 3xx chips simply draw more power than the N2xx. They also support 64-bit instructions, while the rest of the lineup is 32-bit only.

That's Atom, in case you've forgotten

Performance between Silverthorne and Diamondville at the same clock speed is identical. Silverthorne uses a CMOS bus interface instead of a GTL FSB, which consumes less power but also means that it won’t work with conventional desktop chipsets. Silverthorne is thus paired with Intel’s Poulsbo chipset (sold under the UL11/US15 chipset name).

Diamondville supports the standard GTL FSB interface, and will thus work with desktop Intel chipsets. This version won’t work with Poulsbo, but will work with 945G as well as NVIDIA’s GeForce 9400M. Anything that can work with a Core 2 or Pentium 4 processor should be able to work with Diamondville.

Both versions are sold under the Atom name, they simply carry different model numbers. I’ve summarized everything in the table below:

  # of Cores/Threads Clock Speed/L2 FSB 64-bit Target Market TDP Price
Intel Atom 330 2/4 1.6GHz / 512KBx2 533MHz GTL+ Y Desktops/Notebooks 8.0W $43
Intel Atom 230 1/2 1.6GHz / 512KB 533MHz GTL+ Y Desktops/Notebooks 4.0W $29
Intel Atom N270 1/2 1.6GHz / 512KB 533MHz GTL+ N Netbooks 2.5W $44
Intel Atom Z540 1/2 1.86GHz / 512KB 533MHz CMOS N MIDs 2.4W
2.6W w/ HT
Intel Atom Z530 1/2 1.60GHz / 512KB 533MHz CMOS N MIDs 2.0W
2.2W w/ HT
Intel Atom Z520 1/2 1.33GHz / 512KB 533MHz CMOS N MIDs 2.0W / 2.2W w/ HT $40
Intel Atom Z510 1/1 1.1GHz / 512KB 400MHz CMOS N MIDs 2.0W $20
Intel Atom Z500 1/1 800MHz / 512KB 400MHz CMOS N MIDs 0.65W $20


I had to get that out of the way because some manufacturers are opting to go with Silverthorne for their notebooks, while others are using Diamondville. And the model numbers are different enough to be confusing, despite fundamentally being the same processor. Just to reiterate, an Intel Atom Z530 offers the same performance as an Intel Atom N270, they both work at 1.60GHz.

Index Will Intel Stop Ion & Final Words
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  • Longboat - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I have noticed that this Nvidia and another pico computer from VIA (Google: Artigo) are being offered in a 5.25" form factor. These computers even have holes drilled for mounting into a drive bay. I am wondering what functionality a "computer within a computer" might have? Is there a device that allows drives to be shared internally?

    I could see an advantage with running this little atom processor to serve up music or check the mail, and then fire up the big rig for heavy lifting, but I fail to understand how this could be cleanly built.

    The only way I can see is to have some wires coming out the back of the case and connecting both the big rig and the pico computer to a KVM switch and to an ethernet switch, and having all shared files on a server, like a windows home server box.

    Am I overthinking this?
  • nubie - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Connect it to the back of the monitor, and make the pass-through part of the Ion system.

    I love the idea of 5.25" bays in a "micro rack mount" in some case that the entire front is bays from top to bottom, you could get 10 systems and a network switch, and another motherboard as a server(run a network boot on all of them and a raided Raptor setup in the server).

    You could play ten player games on one system!

    Or go the other way and have all systems in your house be Ions and only your main Server/Workstation with a hugely fast storage system and processor (4Ghz Core2 or i7).

    In fact, if they could work out a system to stream the video out of the main system and the controls back to it you could stuff the main server with quad video cards and dual 4-core CPUs and play any video game on any PC/Screen in your house. Maybe even multiple games hosted on one server, either way you could put it in a separate room with loud fans and a huge case for cooling without driving yourself crazy.

    Another option would be to integrate this platform on the motherboard or in the CPU of future Intel systems, for browsing the web or playing simple games/watching movies the i7 never even turns on, but once you need to play Crysis 3 or encode a movie it powers up. Imagine an entire desktop system using only 20watts, but fully capable quad-core + Atom Quad core using 150-200watts only when you need it.
  • anonymoose - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Another difference between Atom Z/Poulsbo and Atom N/945(or whatever) is that Atom Z/Poulsbo supports the C6 Idle power state. This state was first introduced with Penryn, and allows the processor to shut off almost completely when idle.
  • Soulkeeper - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I'm wondering how much these would retail for
    if they could be had for 150 buck or so they'd make an impressive gpugrid addition.
    4 threads on the atom is nice even tho 512KB of cache would seem to starve them.

    would be an interesting toy
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    It has been changed quite few months ago to update support for 2GB of memory.
  • nubie - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Am I the only one who wants 4 of those boxes for their house, last year?

    I think the market is ripe for these to be integrated into TV's and projectors, heck even the head-unit on my car, or the backrest.

    I want it screwed into the VESA pad on the back of a few 15-19" LCD's scattered all around my house.

    In short, for browsing the web and playing WoW style games (silkroad, maplestory, some emulation and retro-gaming), this is a godsend, the power consumption and raw power are mind-boggling for something that size. (Kids would gladly watch a movie or play some games on a laptop that small, heck get them a wireless Xbox360 controller and let them go to town.)

    I just wish that Intel would get their act together and make this work. (Or that AMD would release something related to their initiative to bring CPU/Video to a single chip)
  • tonjohn - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Oh, I'm right there with you!

    I have a great need for a product like this and would probably pick up several of them as long as the price is reasonable.
  • yyrkoon - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    As far as I am aware Intel can not keep chipset makers from using atom ( legally ), and making it financially difficult seems to me would impede on the fair use act (or one of these, sorry can not think of the name ).

    Either way, Asus has an nVidia 9300/9400 netbook for sale on newegg right now. Or, at least they did a couple of weeks ago when I read your article. Tis expensive though at ~$700 usd for a freeking netbook . . .
  • Khato - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Heh... Everyone does realize that Intel making it financially difficult to implement the ION platform is no different than NVIDIA not allowing SLI on platforms without a NVIDIA chipset (until they had no other choice in the matter with the Core I7 platform), right? They're both matters of dangling "Here's the product you want." with a string attached that you have no use for.

    As for cutting NVIDIA out of the atom platform entirely, well, that's easy... EoL Diamondville.

    Anyway, Intel's motivation in this matter isn't so much profits actually, the margins are -far- higher on atom than the 945GSE. Rather, it's the limiting of the platform that's key here - with the 945 it's the graphics capabilities, with Poulsbo it's the memory. A chipset without limitations opens up more of the low end celeron/pentium market to Atom, and I expect that's what Intel's attempting to avoid.
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    If history is any indication (see what happened to VIA during the P4 days, and Ati the moment AMD took over them), and how difficult it has been for AMD to even sue Intel over anti-trust allegations, Intel isn't worried a bit.

    Intel loves making money off a processor + chipset. Protecting that revenue stream is very important. Want an Atom processor? Take a crappy chipset with it. Take it or leave it.

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