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Atom challengers poised for 2009 debut

Intel rivals prep dual-core netbook chips

Chip wafer

2009 promises to be the Year of the Dual-Core Netbook, what with low-power dualies from Freescale, AMD, and VIA Technologies poised to join Intel's dual-core Atom 330.

AMD's and VIA's are full-fledged dual-core processors and Freescale's chip, a new member of its i.MX family, will include dual graphics cores that provide OpenVG and OpenGL support.

No word yet on its all-important thermal design power (TDP) rating - details will be made available when Freescale rolls it out at CES in January - but since it's ARM-based, expect it to be sufficiently power-miserly to give the Atom 330, which has a TDP of 8 watts, a run for its netbook money.

There's no word yet either on the TDP of the AMD dualie, code-named Conesus. However, during an analyst's meeting in November, AMD SVP Randy Allen said that Conesus and its companion platform, Yukon, are designed for customers who don't want a "compromised PC experience."

In other words, it appears that Conesus will require enough juice to make is more suited to beefier netbooks - or low-power notebooks - than the Atom 330. Conesus details will also be revealed at CES.

The dual-core X86-compatible processor from VIA Technologies appears to be the most direct challenger to the Atom 330. Revealed today by DigiTimes, the company's upcoming Nano 3000 family of low-power processors is based on VIA's existing Nano 1000 and Nano 2000 lines. Although the projected TDP of the Nano 3000 line hasn't yet been published, the TDPs of the Nano U2400 (1.3GHz), U2500 (1.2GHz), and U2300 (1.0GHz) are 8W, 6.8W, and 5W, respectively. VIA's U-series processors are defined by the company as "ultra power efficient" and "ultra low voltage."

What sets the Nano 3000 family apart from its Freescale and AMD competition, however, is its support for Intel's SSE4 instruction set, which should boost the Nano 3000's performance in 3D graphics, video encoding/decoding, gaming, and other performance-hungry applications.

Although it remains unclear whether the Nano 3000 will support the entire SSE4 instruction set, Electronista weighs in with the opinion that the Nano 3000 line "will likely not support the full SSE4 instruction set, but rather a subset of 47 instructions." Forty-seven isn't bad, though, considering that the full SSE4 set includes 54 instructions.

Although further details of the Freescale and AMD offerings will be avaiable at CES, dual-core Nano 3000 engineering samples won't be available until the second half of 2009, with full-scale production slated for the end of the year or early 2010.

Netbooks are the hot items these days (are you listening, Apple?), and Intel's Atom has held the lion's share of socket space. The range of processor options, however, is set to expand. ®

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