At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco this week, Intel described its Silverthorne low-power processor targeted at Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs).
According to Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner, Silverthorne is a purpose-built, low-power, IA processor using 45nm high-K metal gate technology. “It’s designed for operation of below a watt and up to about 2 watts of power,” he said.
Silverthorne is an entirely new micro architecture and will be specifically targeted at Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). Intel said it expects these processors to be available sometime in the second quarter of 2008.
Silverthorne will consume about one tenth the power of a normal laptop processor. Currently, cellphones are dominated by ARM processors. Nokia makes extensive use of ARM architecture in its N-Series devices, as do Apple and Nintendo in devices like the iPhone and DS.
“The competition considers 2 watts laughable,” said Will Strauss, principal of Forward Concepts, referring to Silverthorne’s maximum dissipation. “Six hundred milliwatts is the power budget for an entire cell phone processor and baseband.”
“Silverthorne probably won’t appear in anything much smaller than a paperback book,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.). But a follow-on design with lower power consumption in 2009 “could very well appear in smart phones,” he said.
Currently, however, Intel is not aiming Silverthorne at smart phones, but at a class of devices somewhat bigger and more powerful, potentially running full Windows Vista. Silverthorne’s Thermal Design Power will be from 0.6 of a watt to 2 watts. TDP represents the maximum amount of power necessary for cooling. In addition, the chip can achieve a 2-GHz core frequency at 1 volt, and will support such features as Intel’s virtualization technology and hyperthreading.
True cellphone processor competition from Intel may have to wait until 2009 when the Moorestown chip arrives. It will integrate graphics and other funtions, using only a fifth the power of Silverthorne-based ‘Menlow’ platforms. Perhaps a Moorestown-enabled WiMAX cellphone — with voice recognition and a Bluetooth heads-up display — will re-define mobility in 2009-2010.
Intel researchers outlined those achievements in four research papers presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (pdf), which showcases technology that may one day find its way into production.
Intel’s die supports both WiMax and Wi-Fi a/g/n and eliminates the “front-end module,” that normally requires a separate die, Hossein Alavi, director of communications circuits at Intel labs, told InformationWeek.
In addition, Intel researchers have integrated a power amplifier that’s almost entirely digital, improving signal strength and quality. A digital amplifier can scale with the processor, so as the latter becomes more powerful, so can the amplifier.
Other achievements described in the papers include a “smart receiver” for Wi-Fi and WiMax signals that can adjust power consumption to the properties of the signal, Alavi said. A strong signal, for example, can be processed using less power than a weak signal.