Skip to main content

Intel Silvermont Architecture: Does This Atom Change It All?

Can Silvermont Take Atom From Zero To Hero?

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 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.

  • hero1
    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.
    Reply
  • SchizoFrog
    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.
    Reply
  • hannibal
    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.
    Reply
  • de5_Roy
    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/
    Reply
  • tipoo
    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.
    Reply
  • esrever
    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.
    Reply
  • de5_Roy
    10768040 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.
    Reply
  • 4745454b
    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.
    Reply
  • esrever
    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.
    Reply
  • jerryblack
    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.
    Reply