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Intel Silvermont Architecture: Does This Atom Change It All?

Putting It All Together

Based on the per-core and modular design changes that Intel made to Silvermont, next-generation Atom processors could very well change how we think about the family’s performance attributes. And that’s great. But up against the ARM-based SoC competition, speed isn’t Atom’s biggest issue. Power is. Although we’ve seen the 32 nm Z2760 hold off Qualcomm and Nvidia, truly overcoming an incumbent ARM-based architecture requires that Intel lean hard on its process experience to optimize for efficiency, too.

That’s exactly what it says it’s doing with 22 nm. In fact, because Atom is a SoC, Intel can leverage multiple versions of the 22 nm process to maximize performance or density. So, the total sum of Intel’s process advantage, the architecture it enables, and the optimizations baked in to curb power consumption, equals what the company calls a wide dynamic range of operation. How does this range manifest itself? Check out the slide below:

Don’t read the lines as final relative performance—Intel and the unnamed-vendor-with-asymmetric-cores probably won’t wind up in the same places on a chart with actual data labels. Intel’s point is clear, though. The Silvermont architecture is expected to enable very low power consumption and very high performance using the same symmetric approach employed by Saltwell. It’s that much better, though, due to the interplay between 22 nm manufacturing, per-core IPC improvements, scalability across multiple cores, and tweaks to bring minimum core power down.

Meanwhile, asymmetric approaches incur performance penalties for switching from power- to performance-optimized logic, and then lose efficiency to the higher power requirements of those faster cores. If there’s one key visual that reflects the potential impact of Silvermont, this is it. Achieving lower power at higher minimum performance and better performance (also at lower core power) than the competition is what will make Silvermont shine, should Intel’s projections come to pass.

So Does Silvermont Change The Game?

During its deep-dive briefing, Intel showed off a number of slides with projections of performance and power. Some of them compared Saltwell to Silvermont, reflecting big jumps and cuts in each of those categories, respectively. Others showed dual-core Silvermont outperforming dual- and quad-core solutions from the competition well under the power target for smartphones. A third set illustrated Silvermont’s performance advantage at fixed power, and power-savings at peak performance. In every chart, the same message was hammered home. You can compare the field at a set power figure and Silvermont is faster—and not by a small amount. Or, go all-out on performance and the Silvermont architecture uses less power—also not by a small amount.

Of course, products based on Silvermont aren’t yet available, to say nothing of the tablets or smartphones built using those devices. So, Intel’s upcoming solution is competing against hardware already on the market in these slides. Nevertheless, today’s architecture announcement is the next logical step toward the predictions we made in Mobile: Intel Will Overtake Qualcomm In Three Years, keeping our outlook on-track.

We eagerly await more detail on actual SoCs based on Silvermont and Intel’s choice of graphics (rumored to be its own Ivy Bridge-based technology) to test. Intel proved with its Atom Z2760 and Windows 8 that tablets can be every bit as flexible as PCs. That combination ultimately lacked performance and build quality. Silvermont will almost assuredly address the former. Now Intel needs its partners to step up and deliver handheld devices that don’t suck. Then, it’ll truly bury the ecosystem-limited ARM-based competition.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • 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/
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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