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Intel 'Pine Trail' amputates Atom's third chip

Moblin II gets face transplant

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Intel has confirmed that its next-generation Atom processor, code-named Pineview, will include an on-chip memory controller and an integrated graphics processor.

Echoing a processor roapmap leaked to the press in February, the company told reporters this morning that Pineview would arrive "in the second half of the year" as part of its new Atom platform, dubbed Pine Trail.

Yes, that means the fourth quarter. But it's unclear why Pine Trail is two words and Pineview is only one.

Meant for netbooks, netttops, and other low-cost devices, Intel's current Atom platform is a three-chip affair. The memory controller and graphics sit on their own chip, separate from the CPU, and a third chip houses I/O hardware. But with Pine Trail, Intel will shrink things from three chips down to two, putting CPU, memory controller, and graphics onto a single die.

I/O will remain on its own chip, codenamed Tiger Point.

Naturally, Intel boasted that the platform would juice performance, reduce power, and slice both hardware and design costs for system manufacturers. According Noury Al-Khaledy, general manager of Intel's netbook/nettop operations, the new design will allow for thinner designs with better battery lives and fewer fans.

"Because we have better thermals, you will seen more fanless designs in netbooks and a tremendous amount of fanless designs in nettops, which we think is a clear differentiator that will help that category take off this year," Al-Khaledy said during a conference call.

He wouldn't provide additional details on the platform. But Pineview is expected to offer a core clock speed higher than 1.67GHz (the speed of the current Atom N270) and a 200MHz graphics clock (up from the 133MHz of the company's existing GMA 950). Presumably, it will be available in both single- and dual-core versions.

Moblin Mobilized

Today, Intel also released the version 2 beta of Moblin, its open-source operating system designed specifically for Atom hardware. Whereas version 1 of the Linux-based OS was intended for what Intel calls MIDs (mobile internet devices), version 2 expands the project to netbooks, nettops, and various embedded devices.

The idea is to build an OS tailored to Intel's hardware, reducing boot times, shrinking memory footprints, and boosting battery life. The company claims that by the time version 2 officially ships, boot times will be under 10 seconds.

The beta includes a new front-end interface dubbed M-Zone, based on technology Intel acquired last summer with the purchase of startup OpenedHand. The new UI is designed specifically for internet use, media playback, and, yes, social networking.

"The goal is to get you to what you want in one click," said Doug Fisher, vice president and general manager in Intel's software and services group. "It distills everything that happens on the machine and changes as the user interacts with the netbook. So the goal is for about 90 per cent of everything the user does or needs or wants to access available with one click."

There you have it.

Linux middleware and standard Linux API applications should run on Moblin without porting. But Intel is encouraging ISVs to code with the platform in mind. "We're working to optimize hundreds of key applications for specific usages for things like MIDs, to ensure that the optimizations around screen size and power have been incorporated," Fisher said.

Operating system vendors are also expected to customize the OS itself, and Fisher says that the first Moblin version 2 products will arrive "in the next few months." Intel is set to provide ISVs with completed code "sometime this summer."

The Moblin project was founded by Intel in June of 2007, but stewardship is now being moved to the Linux Foundation. You can download the version 2 beta here. ®

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