Intel Silvermont Architecture: Does This Atom Change It All?

Intel’s Atom was once the Rodney Dangerfield of the processor world. It just didn't get no respect. The first Silverthorne-based Atoms were little single-core affairs that dipped into sub-1 W territory, but required a System Controller Hub that took platform power closer to 5 W. More capable versions from the Diamondville family bumped consumption higher still—all the way to the strange pairing of Atom and the 945GC chipset, which used more than 22 W on its own.

Not surprisingly, then, we haven’t published a lot of flattering coverage on Atom (I think the last time I even bothered with an Atom-based desktop was for Intel’s Atom D510 And NM10 Express: Down The Pine Trail With D510MO in 2009). Even today, five years after expressing its intentions to compete against ARM-based SoCs, the industry continues questioning Intel’s ability to deliver ample performance at power targets low enough to facilitate compelling tablets and smartphones.

Methodical progress compelled us to reconsider Intel’s efforts last year, though. Sixteen months ago, one of our writers went underground and made the bold prediction that Intel will overtake Qualcomm in three years. And that was when Intel didn’t have a single phone design win. The analysis was predicated on Intel’s ability to deliver a performance-competitive CPU based on 32 nm manufacturing and in-order execution, knowledge of the company’s manufacturing roadmap, and anticipation of a forthcoming out-of-order architecture.

Meet Silvermont, the predecessor to AirmontMeet Silvermont, the predecessor to Airmont

Well, the details of that design, already known as Silvermont, become public today. And if the Atom processors based on Silvermont can do everything Intel says they can, then we won’t even need granular measurements like the ones we collected for ARM Vs. x86: The Secret Behind Intel Atom's Efficiency to quantify the company’s efficiency story compared to its ARM-based competition.

If you’ve followed the Atom family’s evolution, then you know that Intel hasn’t modified its fundamental microarchitecture in five years. Yes, it made a shift from 45 to 32 nm manufacturing. But the cores themselves—code-named Saltwell at 32 nm, but based on the original Bonnell design—continue to employ in-order execution, clearly favoring low power use at the expense of performance.  

With Silvermont, that changes. We’re now looking at a more complex out-of-order execution engine largely enabled by a transition to 22 nm manufacturing. This isn’t a “see you again in five years” introduction, either. Intel is committing significant resources to dramatically accelerating development of its “light” architecture, promising yearly refreshes (the first of which will be Airmont at 14 nm, extending Intel's manufacturing advantage beyond the lead it enjoys at 22 nm).

In fact, Intel files all of the changes made to Atom into three categories: those that improve performance, others intended to achieve better power efficiency, and specific optimizations to the company’s process technology.

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  • Nice article as always C.A. I would really like to see this chip on a smartphone. If the performance and power utilisation is as good as it looks then Qualcomm will really feel the heat. Intel has the money and R&D to pull off a big move and compete. Time will tell.
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  • I wonder if there are any plans to release Windows Phone 8 smartphones with these SoCs over the next 12-24 months? That would really solidify the eco-system for both Intel and Microsoft in one fell swoop.
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  • Much needed upgrades in here. Hopefully they allso deliver what they promise in these slides. Any devices out in this year or do we have to wait untill 2014 we see something based on these. But very promising indeed! A windows pro tablet based on these at desent price would be first candidate to start good move to Windows based tablets. Then there would be three good alternatives in tablets.
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  • bulldozer!
    .. is the first thing came to my mind when i started reading about the cores. but it's not exactly like bd, it's different. still.. it made me chuckle. amd deserves the credit.

    i wonder if future intel cpus ($330+ core i7) will have the same core system instead of htt.... :whistle: :ange: :lol:

    edit2: rodney dangerfield FTW! \o/
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  • de5_Roybulldozer!.. is the first thing came to my mind when i started reading about the cores. but it's not exactly like bd, it's different. still.. it made me chuckle. amd deserves the credit.


    Well, it's just the cache that's shared in this one, no actual execution resources.
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  • Finally intel is getting serious. Ditching hyperthreading is the best thing they could have possibly done. Now with OoO and real cores these atoms are looks pretty powerful. They will probably beat Kabini no problem with higher clocks with slightly less IPC. The 22nm trigate will drop power consumption especially without the shitty hyperthreading in the way.
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  • 640096 said:
    Finally intel is getting serious. Ditching hyperthreading is the best thing they could have possibly done. Now with OoO and real cores these atoms are looks pretty powerful. They will probably beat Kabini no problem with higher clocks with slightly less IPC. The 22nm trigate will drop power consumption especially without the shitty hyperthreading in the way.

    i noticed the lack of information on the integrated graphics part. having a powerful cpu isn't enough for atom. the gpu part has always been the weakest point for intel. kabini otoh, will have gcn-based, hsa enabled, low power igpu.
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  • So they still have an off die memory controller. I would have thought they would have moved that on die by now.

    Any more info on this "system agent" and IDI? I'm also surprised the cores can't talk directly to each other. If you want to use many small cores to tackle a problem together that's fine. But give them the ability to do it quickly.

    It seems Intel is getting the ball rolling on their smaller chips. I just hope that when they finally do they ditch the Atom name. Bad chips, get a new name for those that aren't.
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  • de5_Royi noticed the lack of information on the integrated graphics part. having a powerful cpu isn't enough for atom. the gpu part has always been the weakest point for intel. kabini otoh, will have gcn-based, hsa enabled, low power igpu.

    Too true. Not a single mention of it probably means it won't be anything to brag about. Intel isn't really the type of company that likes to hide breakthroughs anywhere. Im expecting them to finally be able to do 1080p tablets and thats about it.
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  • No, it won't, regardless of what Intel's press release says. If I've learned anything in the past few years, is never take what Intel says in the PR at face value, because it never turns out true.

    Silvermont may arrive a few months before the 20nm process for ARM chips is ready, but will that be enough, considering Intel's chips cost 2-3x more than the ARM equivalent? Probably not.
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  • I think the article said something about its going to be the IGP from the IB chips. If so that should be much more then enough on a phone.
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  • Contrary to what most enthusiasts believe, the current Atom processors on the market are more than enough horsepower when paired with an HDD and a gig or two of ram for grandma to check her email and figure out how to facebook.

    They're not a bad processor, you just need to properly impliment them. Of course they won't work if you demand split-second responsiveness or are looking to play games, but for somebody looking to set up a basic windows or linux box they're more than acceptable.
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  • That's a bit like saying AMDs CPUs are good enough. Yes, both are mostly true. But both also ignore other possible solutions that are options. Why buy an Atom that performs similar to other chips, but because of the higher power usage will drain a battery and only last 75% as long as other SoCs? If Atom really was "good enough", then Intel could just put it out and not worry about it anymore. But they didn't, because I'm sure even Intel knows that at this point they aren't there yet.
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  • I think AMD will die, when Intel Silvermount rolls out.
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  • I believe Chris Angelini will not buy any AMD Jaguar based product, instead he will buy Intel Silvermount based product.
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  • Look, even Tomshardware itself does not host its websites at AMD based server, because the experts at Tomshardware know AMD processors are unreliable, you will end up with an increasingly failed servers, you should know that AMD designed processors have too many bugs because they are designed by the dumbest engineers in the world. Even CIO.com does not recommend to mix Intel server with AMD based server because AMD servers will likely fail in the next 48 hours.
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  • Quote:
    4745454bThat's a bit like saying AMDs CPUs are good enough. Yes, both are mostly true. But both also ignore other possible solutions that are options. Why buy an Atom that performs similar to other chips, but because of the higher power usage will drain a battery and only last 75% as long as other SoCs? If Atom really was "good enough", then Intel could just put it out and not worry about it anymore. But they didn't, because I'm sure even Intel knows that at this point they aren't there yet.

    Yes, you are right that is why I like you because you are always using Intel's product and even you have not and vow to not buy any AMD based product in your lifetime. Even I'm using Intel Pentium based notebook because it's better than unreliable buggy crap like current AMD A* processors. That is why when I'm looking for notebook, I will look for Intel's blue sticker in the laptop, because it always superior.
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  • Quote:
    esreverFinally intel is getting serious. Ditching hyperthreading is the best thing they could have possibly done. Now with OoO and real cores these atoms are looks pretty powerful. They will probably beat Kabini no problem with higher clocks with slightly less IPC. The 22nm trigate will drop power consumption especially without the shitty hyperthreading in the way.


    Yes you are right, there is no way crappy kabini will outperform Silvermount, the longer AMD's engineers work for AMD, their IQs will decrease, because as a loser company, AMD can not feed its engineers appropriately, ask it to former AMDer like Michael M. Chu, who currently works for Intel.
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  • I've never seem a problem with AMD processors when it comes to reliability, Yes maybe they can't quite compete with Intel in performance but I have noticed even at that AMD is beginning to close the gap some. If anybody has seen an AMD road map of their upcoming advancements then they know AMD is about to pull a big rabbit out of the hat. Not to mention they give Intel a run for the money with price to performance, And "NO" I am not an AMD fanboy. I use Intel In all three of my home PC's, But I am pulling for AMD. We need AMD to keep Intel In check and I have been Impressed lately by the Piledriver's Improvement's over Bulldozer and AMD's future potential.
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  • esreverToo true. Not a single mention of it probably means it won't be anything to brag about. Intel isn't really the type of company that likes to hide breakthroughs anywhere. Im expecting them to finally be able to do 1080p tablets and thats about it.


    No, Intel Silvermount will be 4K capable at least in video decode. AMD will not do that because AMD does not have money to buy the necessary IPs that cover the 4K video decode.
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