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Intel's Windows 8 tablet Atom chip yields up its secrets

Inside Clover Trail

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IDF 2012 Intel has begun to reveal what's inside the next generation of tablet- and smartphone-specific Atom processors, codenamed respectively Clover Trail and Clover Trail Plus.

Clover Trail, which the chip giant has been dropping hints about since mid-2011, has been designed "from the ground up" for Windows 8 but builds on the current Z-series Atom platform, Medfield, with its single CPU core system-on-a-chip, Penwell.

Clover Trail's central component is an SoC which will incorporate a pair of HyperThreading enabled cores, each with 512KB of L2 cache; dedicated 30fps 1080p video encoding and decode units; an image processing unit for fast photo manipulation, separate from the 2D/3D graphics; a security module; and IO circuitry and controllers for HDMI 1.3, USB, SDIO, Flash storage and low-power DDR 2.

The broader platform - the chips and parts outside the SoC, but still part of Clover Trail - include 8Mp rear and 2Mp front cameras; up to 64GB of Flash storage; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G HSPA+ connectivity; and NFC.

Clover Trail Plus has essentially the same SoC elements, though the CPU module of the SoC is slightly different, Intel staff indicated. It'll ship as the Atom Z2580. The Medfield smartphone SoC, the Atom Z2460, clocks at up to 2GHz. That's its burst mode speed, a peak it'll reach if there's thermal headroom for it to do so, and its successor is likely to go higher. The Z2580 is slightly bigger than the Z2460: 14mm² to the latter's 12mm².

There'll also be an SoC for budget smartphones, the Z2000. It'll run at up to 1.2GHz.

On the tablet side, the Clover Trail SoC will reach 1.8GHz, up from the current Z2610's 1.6GHz.

Both incoming SoCs support up to 2GB of LPDDR 2 in a package-on-package configuration: the memory die piggy-backs on the SoC, saving motherboard space. Intel reckons the resulting tablets need be no thicker than 8.5mm even so.

Both Clover Trail SoCs will be fabbed at 32nm. At some point in the future - Intel's not saying precisely when - a new architecture produced at 22nm will be introduced to supersede it. The new tablet-centric version is codenamed Bay Trail. ®

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