Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: More Details Surface on Intel's Next-Gen Atoms

The more I hear about Intel's next-gen Atom platform, the more excited I get. Bay Trail, if it lives up to the hype, will supercharge the netbook experience. More details on Bay Trail have been released in the past few days and weeks, and it is now viable to make predictions on the caliber and breadth of games that will work comfortably on the next generation of netbooks. Put on your sunglasses, 'cause the light at the end of the Intel-netbooks-suck-tunnel is getting close.

All of the codenames associated with Intel's upcoming Atoms can be quite confusing: Bay Trail, Valley View, Silvermont, Saltwell, agh! What do they all mean?

*Bonnell - name of the microarchitecture used in Diamondville and Pineview
*Saltwell - name of the microarchitecture used in Cedar Trail
*Silvermont - name of the microarchitecture used for the next generation; by far the superior of these three
*Valley View - name of the physical next-gen chip itself
*Bay Trail - name of the next-gen platform

Do these names really matter? No, at least not on this blog. Cedar Trail and Bay Trail are the only codenames I'll regularly use.

The most exciting part about Bay Trail, in my opinion, is the improvement in processor. The best Intel netbook processor today, the Atom N2800, is slightly better than a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 HT from early 2004. Nowadays, the vast majority of games require some sort of Core 2 Duo-class processor, and Atom can't keep up. That's where Bay Trail comes in. Using a quad-core CPU, Bay Trail can run neck-and-neck with an equally clocked Core 2 Duo from mid to late 2008, as long as the application is optimized for 4 cores. That's a massive improvement over anything available in the past. With this kind of power, a Bay Trail Atom clocked at 1.8 GHz can take on games like Assassin's Creed 2 or Battlefield 3 (whether the graphics can keep up or not is another matter...). In addition to the increase in power, the new CPU's will also have new instruction sets, like SSE 4.2 and cryptography extensions. Sadly, HyperThreading is gone, but having a quad-core CPU more than makes up for that.
Source: Anandtech
We already know that Bay Trail will be employ Intel's 7th generation graphics (the kind used in the iwhatever-3000 and 4000 series). The only things that tells us are that the feature set will be much better than all GMA's, well, ever, and that there won't be any more suckish drivers (we can hope). According to Anandtech, the graphics will consist of 4 execution units, only 25% of what Intel's HD Graphics 4000 has. Still, that's a big improvement compared to Cedar Trail. 4 Intel execution units are like 32 of AMD's, Nvidia's, or PowerVR's shader cores, and can deliver double the fillrate of the GMA 3600 at the same clock speed of 400 MHz. What does that mean? It means you can play the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Left 4 Dead series on the weakest of the Bay Trail chips, and it only gets better from there. Rift and Skyrim will play just fine on the strongest of the Bay Trail family. You still won't be able to play F1 2010 or Metro 2033, though, but still, having DirectX 11.1 and OpenGL 4 support on a netbook is going to be epic.
Leaked information from CPU World indicates that there are 7 unique SKU's, 3 "standard temperature" and 4 "extended temperature" ones. Whether netbooks will use standard or extended temperature SKU's is unknown. All standard temperature parts get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum memory bandwidth of 17 GB/s (for netbooks), as well as GPU clocks of at least 300 MHz. One of the standard temperature SKU's will be a quad-core solution that supports speed boosts of up to 1.9 GHz or higher, with a TDP of 12 watts at most. The other 2 SKU's have unknown clock speeds, but one will be dual-core and one will be quad-core, and both will consume less than 10 watts of power.
Extended temperature SKU's come in 4 flavors: entry-level, mid-class, high-end, and premium. The entry-level will have a single core clocked somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 GHz, with a 400 MHz GPU. The mid-class parts gets two cores clocked between 1.2 and 1.5 GHz with a GPU running at 533 MHz. Both of these SKU's only get a single-channel memory controller, which, if used in netbooks, will put out a little over 8.5 GB/s of bandwidth. The high-end SKU is also a dual core part, but is clocked between 1.5 and 1.7 GHz with a 667 MHz GPU. Finally, the premium solution will be quad-core and run between 1.7 and 2.0 GHz combined with a 700 MHz CPU. The high-end and premium SKU's will get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum bandwidth of, again, 17 GB/s. All extended temperature SKU's will consume less than 6 watts of energy.



  1. how dare you talk about netbooks and not mention the acer aspire v5 122p with the new amd temash quad core! but on a serious note, it looks great but the price and power draw are a little too high to really be classed as a netbook...check it out

    1. Oh, I didn't know Temash was out yet! I need to write about it! The fact that that netbook/laptop can't play Skyrim is pretty disappointing...seems like a 1 GHz quad-core isn't as good as a higher-clocked dual-core right now. That, and AMD is still using a single-channel memory controller.

      In my defense, this post isn't about AMD, it's about Intel.