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What to expect from desktop and mobile processors in 2010

We look at what's on the cards for CPUs this year

From mighty six-core desktop chips to miniscule smartbook processors, here's a look at what's on the cards for CPUs this year.

Low-power desktop CPUs
At the other end of the power spectrum, Intel in late December announced two new low-power 45nm processors for entry-level desktop PCs: the single-core Atom D410 and dual-core Atom D510.

Intel expects to see these chips used in all-in-one and small-form-factor PCs. The big news here is that Intel has moved the memory controller into the CPU, as it has done with its Nehalem architecture.

This design change reduces the overall chip count from three to two, which lowers design and manufacturing costs as well as power and cooling requirements.

The Atom D410 has 512KB of L2 cache and the D510 has 1MB of L2 cache. Both processors run at 1.66 GHz, have a 667-MHz front-side bus (FSB), and support hyperthreading.

Unlike Intel, AMD won't have any ultra-low-power offerings this year.

"AMD needs to enter this low-power market, but it has been too preoccupied," says Tom Halfhill, senior analyst at In-Stat's 'Microprocessor Report' newsletter.

"With any luck, AMD will be ready for a rebound in 2010."

Via Technologies - which, according to Halfhill, pioneered the concept of simplified, low-power x86 processors - does have a promising alternative to Intel's Atom.

The company began mass-producing its Nano 3000 series of CPUs in December 2009.

The Nano 3300 runs at 1.2 GHz with an 800MHz FSB, while the Nano 3200 runs at 1.4GHz, also with an 800MHz FSB.

Both chips are manufactured using a 65nm process, but they offer a number of features that Intel's Atom-series processors do not, including full support for Blu-ray video.

In addition, the processors in the Nano 3000 series support either 800MHz dual-channel DDR2 memory or 1,066MHz dual-channel DDR3 memory, while the Atom is limited to 800MHz single-channel DDR2.

And where the Nano 3000 series supports a full range of video interfaces (including LVDS, DisplayPort and HDMI), the Atom D410 and D510 are limited to LVDS and VGA.

For all that, Halfhill predicts "Via will be lucky to nibble a few crumbs of market share. It's too bad, because Via makes some good x86 processors."

Mobile processors

Intel should notch the most mobile design wins this year, thanks to its ultra-low-power Atom processor and its Arrandale series processors, the latter of which integrate both a dual-core CPU and GPU in the same package.

AMD's graphics division, on the other hand, should earn a lot of business in the desktop-replacement notebook market, because it's currently the only company that has a mobile graphics processor that's capable of supporting Microsoft's DirectX 11.

In the handheld and smartbook market, ARM Holdings' Cortex-A8/A9 processors should gain significant traction.

NEXT PAGE: Full-size laptop CPUs

  1. We look at what's on the cards for CPUs this year
  2. Desktop processors
  3. Low-power desktop CPUs
  4. Full-size laptop CPUs
  5. Netbook CPUs
  6. Looking further out

See all: Processor reviews


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