A Big Win: No More 20W+ Platform
The first Atom-based desktop platforms consisted of an ironic combination of 4W CPU and 22.2W chipset, Intel’s 945GC. Mid-way through 2008, Intel launched the 945GSE at a more reasonable 6W (paired to a 3.3W ICH7M).
Match up an Atom 330 with 945GSE and you’ve got a very power-friendly 17.3W platform, albeit a somewhat inelegant three-chip platform based on older technology.
Nvidia isn’t as forthcoming with its TDP numbers, but Ion purportedly uses roughly 15W tops. So, an Atom 330/Ion arrangement would max out slightly higher at 23W. This could prove to be a detriment in mobile applications. But if HP’s Mini 311 has shown us anything, it’s that the graphics performance and video decoding capabilities of Ion help counterbalance higher power consumption.
With its Pine Trail platform, Intel shifts away from the three-chip configuration, integrates northbridge functionality into the processor die, and leaves the NM10 Express chipset to handle I/O. As a result, the CPU’s maximum TDP increases from 8W (dual-core Atom 330) to 13W (dual-core Atom N510), but you shed the 6.6W memory controller hub.
A Desktop-Oriented Atom Chipset
Intel won’t disclose the TDP, die size, or transistor count of NM10—formerly referred to as Tiger Point—but we know it’s manufactured at 45nm and populates a 17x17mm package. That’s a significant reduction from the 31x31mm ICH7, manufactured at 130nm. We’re going to assume, then, that NM10 uses less than the ICH7’s 3.3W TDP, putting platform power in the 16W or lower range—or right around what an Nvidia Ion chipset on its own uses.
With the functionality previously handled by northbridge technology sucked up into the CPU, what’s left for NM10 Express to address?
Unlike US15W (Poulsbo), which was explicitly designed to incorporate northbridge, southbridge, and graphics duties for the Silverthorne-based Atom Z-series CPUs (in a 2.3W package, no less), NM10 features a decidedly more desktop-oriented pedigree. Among the chipset’s capabilities are two SATA 3 Gb/s ports, up to eight USB 2.0 ports, up to four PCI Express lanes (configurable as four x1 or one x4), and HD Audio.