Intel’s new Atom chips
Intel’s Atom T5500 and 5700 chips to come with Gen9 integrated graphics processors, writes Agam Shah
In 2009, Apple CEO Tim Cook memorably trashed Atom-based netbooks for being “junky” hardware that underperformed. Intel’s Atom chips have come a long way since then, with the latest generation code-named Broxton boasting the most impressive improvements.
The company’s new Atom T5500 and 5700 chips have features found in low-end PC processors, but they are instead targeted at robots, drones, wearables and smart home devices.
A standout feature is the ability to both decode and encode 4K, which could allow the chips to be used in virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.
Intel showed smart glasses, a bartending robot, and a smart motorcycle helmet with the Broxton chips at the recent Intel Developer Forum (see page 6 for details). The tech giant also said the chips could be used be in storage or media servers.
Earlier this year, Intel discontinued its Atom chips for phones. At the time, it said it would stop developing Broxton chips, but the company appears to have changed its mind. The target markets for Broxton chips align with the chipmaker’s focus on the growing markets of virtual reality and the Internet of Things. Intel is trying to position Atom chips for devices outside of PCs, which have seen shipments fall.
But over the past few months, the firm has softened its stance on how it could use Atom chips. Broxton could be employed in specialised enterprise tablets, and there’s a remote possibility that device makers will use the new Atom processors in low-end or thumb stick-sized PCs.
The chips will support Windows 10 desktop, Windows 10 IoT Core, Linux, Android and the VxWorks real-time OS.
You can get the new Atom chip through Intel’s latest Joule (see page 8) developer board, which like Raspberry Pi 3, is targeted at people looking to build devices. The $370 (UK price TBC) Joule 570x has a 1.7GHz Atom T5700 processor, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of storage, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The Joule could be an expensive, albeit excellent, media server with support for 4K and the latest Wi-Fi technology.
The T5500 and T5700 chips are based on Intel’s latest Goldmont architecture, which will also be found in upcoming Celeron and Pentium chips codenamed Apollo Lake. The chips draw just 6- to 12W of power.
The 4K video capabilities come thanks to an improved Gen9 integrated graphics processor, which is also in Intel’s current batch of chips based on the Skylake architecture. They can support up to three 4K DisplayPort sockets, while HDMI will display at a refresh rate of 60Hz.
Visual computing is becoming important, especially with robots, drones (see page 8), and self-driving cars relying on cameras for motion tracking and gesture and image recognition. The Atom chips have a next-generation image processing engine that speeds up visual computing.
There is also a 50- to 80 percent improvement in memory bandwidth compared to the previous Atom chip, based on the Silvermont architecture released in 2015, according to Intel. Finally, it supports error correction, which was previously available only on Atom server chips.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich speaks at IDF 2016 in San Francisco