Atom processors are the smallest processors designed and developed by Intel based on 45 nm Hi-k Metal Gate technology. Intel formally announced the arrival of Atom processors on 21st December,2009. It claimed that Atom processors have longer battery life and consume 20% less power compared to the processors of previous generation. Designed on Bonnell architecture, these processors delivered much improved performance. Because of the small size and high performance, applications like nettops and netbooks employ these state of the art technology devices. Network support for these devices is widely available.
Intel Atom processors were derived wisegolfers from Intel A100 and A110 low power microprocessors, which were designed based on 90 nm process technology. Both of A100 and A110 processors operated at 600MHz-800MHz and had 512KB L2 cache. The required thermal design power was 3 watts. The first processor belonging to Atom family was Siverthorne whose arrival was announced on 2nd March,2008. Before that the speculation was rife that Silverthorne will be launched to rival AMD’s Geode system-on-a-chip processor used in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)project. But later Intel announced that it was developing another processor,named Diamodville, for OLPC project. Finally it was revealed that both Diamodville and Silverthorne are designed based on the same micro architecture. Silverthorne would belong to the Atom Z5xx series and Diamodville would belong to the Atom N2xx series. The costlier Silverthorne processor was designed for mobile internet devices, while the cheaper Diamnodville was developed for nettop and netbook applications. Since Atom processors are used in several applications, Intel provides extensive PC support for these processor based systems.
Bonnell Micro Architecture
Bonnell micro architecture is used in designing the Atom processors. Maximum of two instructions could be executed per cycle in this architecture. x86 instructions are divided into smaller internal operations before execution. When translated, most of the instructions produce one micro operation. Only a very small portion,that is 4%, of the instructions produce multiple micro operations. The internal micro operations could contain both of a memory load and memory store operations while executing an ALU operation. This feature improved the performance considerably since register renaming,instruction reordering and speculative execution are not required. Also hyper-threading is designed in such a way that both pipelines are used by eliminating single thread dependencies with less power consumption.
The Core Processing Part
The Atom processor comprises two ALUs (Arithmetic Logical Unit) and two FPUs (Floating Point Unit). The first ALU performs arithmetic and logical shift operations, while the second one performs branch operations. All 64 bit multiplication and addition operations are performed by FPU, even if the operands are integers. The first FPU is used to perform additions, while the second one is employed for multiplication and division operations. The 128 bit operations are performed by both of the FPUs.
Hyper-threading technology could process two threads at the same time by utilizing the unused parts of the pipeline. This technology improved the performance of the processor considerably, even though it is not as efficient as a dual core processor. However this technology has a serious flaw on multi-user systems which might allow local information disclosure. In such an eventuality, the hyper threading should be disabled with the help of a network support provider.
Total size of Atom’s Level 1 cache memory is 56kB. Out of 56kB cache memory, 24kB is reserved for data and 32kB is reserved for instructions. 8 transistors are used to store 1 bit compared to 6 transistors in standard cache. This unique feature reduces the minimum voltage required to maintain the information on the cache. The size of level 2 cache is 512kB. It runs at the same frequency as the processor. Its latency is 16 cycles. The memory of the Atom based system could be modified with the PC support from Intel.
Network Support For Atom Processors
Since its release, some bugs have been reported by the Linux users, which could be fixed by patching the processor microcode before booting. If still the problems remain, the users should take the help of PC support providers. Intel itself has been providing extensive network support for Atom processor problems. Apart from Intel, many other PC support providers are rendering services for problems faced by the Atom users.
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