In­tel’s new Atom chips

In­tel’s Atom T5500 and 5700 chips to come with Gen9 in­te­grated graph­ics pro­ces­sors, writes Agam Shah

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

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

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