As Intel gets ready to reveal new information about its upcoming low-power Silverthorne processor at the International Solid State Circuits Conference this week, it's becoming clear that the technology is more than a new chip.
Silverthorne, designed for ultra mobile PCs and mobile Internet devices, is a building block that will be critical to a good portion of the chips listed on Intel's future product roadmap, according to industry analysts.
"Silverthorne isn't just a processor. No, it's much more than that," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat. "It is really a building block for not just part of Intel's strategy, but a big part of their strategy going forward. It's one step toward them getting down toward a power range that can compete with other embedded architectures."
McGregor noted that the Silverthorne architecture will be worked into future processors, like the upcoming Morristown platform, which is slated to ship in 2009.
Pankaj Kedia, a director at Intel, told Computerworld that Silverthorne will be a key piece of many other Intel products. "The low-power micro-architecture we're going to be rolling out next week is establishing a foundation that will spawn multiple processors in different segments," he added. "We believe mobile Internet devices is a big market -- a high growth market. More and more consumers want to access the Internet wherever they are... We think more and more consumers will want to carry the Internet with them in their pocket. Silverthorne will be the heartbeat of this category. From a growth perspective, Silverthorne is very important."
In a press briefing last week, Intel CTO Justin Rattner said Silverthorne is still on track to ship in the first half of this year. The low-power processor is designed to be compatible with the Core 2 Duo instruction set and gets down into the 2 watt to .6 watt power range. The processor is based on Intel's 45-nanometer technology.
Kedia said Silverthorne's power needs are about 15 times lower than the company's lowest power dual-core processor. And Rattner said the performance is in the range of the early Centrino processors. "It's quite respectable performance for a processor this little," he added.
However, Kedia noted that the "innovation" in the new architecture lies in its low-power technology. "Other product lines will leverage this innovation," he said. "Other roadmaps, laptops and servers... and other segments like the embedded space and entertainment systems in cars... will all leverage the power management innovation that we have in the Silverthorne architecture."
And being able to extend the technology that way is a key strength fro Intel as it looks to break into new markets like processors for mobile devices, said McGregor.
"The big thing for Intel is that they're on this edge," he explained. "They've been the shining star in high-tech for a long time. They're the most profitable semiconductor manufacturer in the world. They've dominated the markets they're in, but they've failed to get into other markets, like TVs and cellular handsets. It's important for them to find new growth opportunities for the future. It's still going to be hard to maintain the margins they do in computing but if they want to continue to grow, they have to move into new markets."
Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting, said with Silverthorne, Intel is showing the industry it's serious about advancing into the ultra mobile PC market.
"It's important from the standpoint that Intel is putting a stake in the sand," he said. "For what it does, it's good. It's not the universal chip that will run everything from laptops to cell phones. As an entrance in the tablet PC and small laptop arena, it's a very good chip. This is the basic technology that's going to be the foundation for a lot of other Intel ultra mobile form factors."