IDF Spring 2008 – Atom Success Out Of Intel’s Hands

It's not the size. It's what you do with it that counts.

In a round table discussion on Intel’s upcoming Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), Intel today admitted the success of MIDs, and consequently the Atom platform on which they’re based, will be determined not by the capabilities of Silverthorne, or any of its underlying technology but rather by how easy to use OEMs manage to make the devices.

Now this may seem like stating the obvious because, after all, Intel is just a chip manufacturer. However, as Riyad discussed mere days ago, the UMPC failed precisely because it didn’t really have a target market – it was neither small enough to be a replacement for a smart phone, nor was it powerful enough to replace a notebook – and OEMs were left seemingly uninspired to innovate, at least until the Eee PC came along. By taking this same stand point it seems Intel is preparing itself for an equally cold reception to the slew of MIDs that will be hitting shelves within the next three months.

(centre)Panasonics new Atom based MID Toughbook – sorry for the picture quality(/centre)

Even with its development of the MobLin (Mobile Linux) SDK that should see devices sporting operating systems similar to the cut-down, easy-to-use Linux distro used on the Eee PC, Intel still faces an uphill battle to ensure final products do the platform justice.

Further adding to the general negative first impression of the MID concept that most of the present journalists were sporting was the news that these devices would have battery lives averaging around the 4-6 hour mark. Now, call me demanding, but what’s the point of a device that is little smaller than the likes of an Eee PC but that has a battery life worse than most current ultra-portable notebooks? None, I put it to you.

Of course we will reserve judgement until we get to have a proper play with some hardware in a couple of months time but based on what we saw today, the near future for MIDs is one filled with failure.

There was a silver lining to this great cloud of negativity, though. Unfortunately, it was in the form of the next generation Silverthorne-type platform – currently codenamed Moorestown – that will not be seeing the light of day until well into 2009.

This new System-on-Chip processor, dubbed Lincroft, will basically bring together a shrunken Silverthorne processor, memory controller, and graphics processing section and be built using the 45nm process. The key being, this integration of currently disparate components will result in a potentially much smaller overall form factor. Indeed, we were shown a sample PCB that was only two-inch square – now that’s what we call portable!

(centre)Anand Chandrasekher gives us a sneak peek of the upcoming Moorestown PCB(/centre)

The best bit, though, is the news that as well as the new chip being physically smaller, it will also have an idle power ten times less than that of the current Silverthorne platform. So, although battery life during use may or may not be improved, the device will be able to remain in a standby state for considerably longer periods, which ties in much more with our vision of a truly mobile device.

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