Intel has just issued a press release announcing their newest low power processor for mobile devices: Atom. While processors for mobile devices are not a new product for Intel, Atom represents a radical departure from the traditional mobile device CPU.
Up till now MD processors were essentially incompatible with laptop/desktop/server processor architectures, making it extremely difficult to produce a program from a single codebase that could scale from handheld to server levels of hardware. Atom changes the playing field by creating a multicore (up to 11 on a single die) processor that is compatible with Core2 Duo. This allows programs written for desktop environments to run essentially unchanged in handheld/settop/embedded environments.
What this buys the handheld device is an internet experience similar to what is currently had on larger devices. Whereas the iPhone (ARM based) uses a port of Mac OS X to support versions of popular Mac applications (Safari, iTunes, etc), said apps must be adjusted and recompiled for the environment. Atom would allow OS and apps to run virtually unchanged.
The implications of this bode well for the consumer, assuming that programmers remember that mobile devices won’t have several gigabytes of RAM handy and that secondary storage will be limited as well. Lean and fast will be the order of the day.
Intel has entered the Atom Age. Here’s hoping they don’t blow up and take us with them…