Intel Intros Diamondville CPU, 4-series Chipsets


Taipei (Taiwan) - Intel is rolling out the second wave of Atom processors at Computex 2008 - one CPU for Netbooks and one for Nettops. Both are based on the Diamondville single-core, a slightly modified version of the original Silverthorne chip. Intel also rolled out its next-generation desktop chipsets, which deliver support for Displayport and HDMI interfaces.

Diamondville is, just like Silverthorne, a major new processor and in terms of sheer market potential, it may be the even more important version of Intel’s tiny 45 nm single-core processor. Other than Silverthorne, which exclusively aims for the integration in mobile Internet devices (MIDs), Diamondville targets cheap notebooks ("Netbooks") and desktop PCs ("Nettops") for the education segment as well as emerging markets. Intel says that such notebooks may be priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $250, while desktop PCs may run in the $200 to $300 price range.

Intel did not release a whole lot of technical specifications about the two Diamondville versions, but we are quite certain that we aren’t the only ones being confused over this lineup and that vendors who are buying Atom CPUs will have a lot of questions. In the end, it appears to be a pure marketing play of putting a price premium on size and power consumption.

The Netbook version, Atom N270, runs at 1.6 GHz, FSB533, comes with 512 KB L2 cache and has a thermal design power rating of 2.5 watts. The Nettop version, Atom 230, also runs at 1.6 GHz, FSB533, comes with 512 KB L2 cache and has a thermal design power rating of 4 watts. In terms of power saving features, Intel has stripped power saving features from the 230 (which supports C states 0 and 1, while the N270 supports CO through C4).

Compared to the Silverthorne SKU, the Diamondville does not look very convincing and one or the other vendor may wonder why you would use a more power-hungry chip over the less power hungry one (the 1.6 GHz Atom Z530 runs at 2 watts, while supporting FSB533, integrating 512 KB of L2 cache and offering C0-C6 power states). In addition, Silverthorne comes in a 13 mm x 14 mm package, while Diamondville comes in a much larger 22 mm x 22 mm package. But there are reason why you would want Diamondville and not Silverthorne in some products: Silverthorne is more than twice as expensive and its 915 chipset-based graphics engine can’t handle Windows Vista.

In contrast to Silverthorne’s 915-based SCH chipset, Intel offers the 230 and N270 in combination with 945-based chipsets (945GC for Nettops and 945GSE for Netbooks). The 915 originally started the controversy over different Windows Vista versions that were brought to market and it is a generally accepted opinion that it is just not a good idea to run Windows Vista Aero on a 915 chipset. The 945 on the other side is typically considered the bare minimum for Windows Vista and it appears this may have been a convincing argument for Intel to use the 945 and not the 915 for Diamondville systems. The combined power consumption of the Atom N270 and the 945GSE chipset is about 7.5 watts.

We mentioned price before and Diamondville actually has landed in an area we originally had marked for Silverthorne. The Atom N270 is priced at $44 (without chipset), while the 230 can be purchased for $29. As said, the privilege of owning a more power-efficient chip comes at a substantial premium - 51% in this specific case. The 1.6 GHz Atom Z530 is priced at $95 (including SCH). According to Intel, the different Atom SKUs offer choice and choosing Silverthorne or Diamondville means that there will be a trade-off, either in performance, power or cost.

Another big Intel news at Computex is the launch of the 4-series chipsets. The chipsets comes in three different versions - two with graphics (G45, G43) and one without (P45). New features include support for Blu-ray playback, post processing for high-definition video as well as connectors for Displayport and HDMI (with HDCP) interfaces.