More (and More) clarification on Atom, Moorestown and Operating Systems.

Posted on 06 May 2010 by

Yesterday’s Intel Moorestown announcement caused me some surprise. It also caused some confusion so here’s a round-up of the state-of-play as I see it relating to Atom and operating systems.

A huge number of journalists clearly didn’t read the fact-sheet highlighting that Android is now formally part of the Moorestown equation. That was the surprise for me. Many didn’t even pick up on the lack of ‘Microsoft’ in the press releases and many just see ‘Atom’ as a single product when it’s not. It’s a CPU architecture component in a range of low-power computing platforms.

Intel haven’t really been clear about the strategy here (and don’t help much with their statement to Engadget) but it you had attended some of the Intel Ultra-Mobility Group events over the last few years you will have picked up on what’s going on.

Atom is a simple X86 CPU core that can run X86 code. That part is simple.

Moorestown is a platform; the first version of which will include the Atom core (yup, the same core architecture as on a netbook) but will include some very new elements such as new idle states and very very fine-grained power control. [start here for more tech detail.] It also uses a different bootstrapping and system interface (called the Simple Firmware Interface. Tech details PDF here) so no matter how you try, it’s not going to work with the DOS/BIOS/ACPI-based architecture required by mainstream Windows and Linux builds. That’s why the ‘handheld’ version of Moblin/MeeGo was built. It contains 1) the support for the new bootstrap mechanism 2) the links to enable power control. It also contains the sensor and messaging (between apps) support that Windows can’t provide. Finally, it’s compact in terms of memory and disk footprint. Oh, and it’s license-free!

Intel have also been working to bring Android up to speed for this platform. This doesn’t mean that Android will work on netbooks now but it does mean that a customer has a choice of highly branded and trusted mobile platforms and OS stacks to choose from now across the ARM and Intel portfolios. Intel is approaching business-case-parity with ARM here.

Did Intel just push Microsoft out of the door? No.

Intel is working in Moorestown-W. Moorestown-W (not officially announced but picked up in conversations and interviews) uses a more-traditional PC-like architecture that allows XP and Win7 to run. Some of the power-saving elements will be redundant (or removed) but there will be thermal, memory and size gains to be had that make Moorestown quite attractive for slim and netbook solutions.

Finally, Intel is also working on the next-generation of their netbook platform and naturally, this will support Windows.

In fact, if you look across Intel’s low-power platform product range, you can see the architecture aligning. If the next-generation netbook platform drops the GMA3100 GPU and slots-in the licensed core from Imagination Technologies (as on other Intel Atom platforms – Why? It removes IP and patent issues for the customer) then will have something that be a simple variant of Moorestown-W or the Queensbay platform.

It’s confusing, yes, but you have to think of Atom as a small component in a range of low-power platforms that will support everything from tight mobile operating systems to a full flexible WIndows-7 desktop. Intel are just giving their customers the widest choice possible.

Sidenote: I’m investigating the possibility that the WebOS UI could, technically, run on top of an Intel architecture. If HP want to stick with Intel for WebOS solutions, it should be possible.

Sidenote 2: This is a 5-10 year play by Intel. What you see with Moorestown is just start of it. The next-gen 32nm Medfield platform is already announced and you can be sure that the work on the ‘tock’ after that has already started.

Categorized | Hardware, History, Report

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. UMPCPortal says:

    New article: More (and More) clarification on Atom, Moorestown and Operating Systems. http://bit.ly/cARH5d

  2. Gretchen Glasscock says:

    More (and More) clarification on Atom, Moorestown and Operating Systems.: Yesterday’s Intel Moorestown announcemen… http://bit.ly/9271eI

  3. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    RT @umpcportal: New article: More (and More) clarification on Atom, Moorestown and Operating Systems. http://bit.ly/cARH5d

  4. geekinchief says:

    @umpcportal has great analysis of Moorestown, Intel's decision not to support Windows. Could there be a Moorestown-W? http://bit.ly/cARH5d

  5. testbunny says:

    Quote: If the next-generation netbook platform drops the GMA3100 GPU and slots-in the licensed core from Imagination Technologies (as on other Intel Atom platforms – Why? It removes IP and patent issues for the customer)

    I don’t understand that sentence. Integrating the Imagination Technologies GPU creates patent and license issues for the customers. The support from Imagination is abysmal concerning the Linux platform. There is no open source Linux driver available. Therefore the out of the box experience for me as a consumer is really bad. Even Nvidia provides better closed drivers than Intel for the GPUs licensed from Imagination.

    This is in stark contrast to the excellent driver support that Intel provides for every other in house developed GPU, including the GMA3100.

  6. Chippy says:

    It just means that no one can attack Intel (or a customer of Intel) if there are patent issues with PowerVR. Everyone is licensing PowerVR anyway so there’s unlikely ever to be an issue. I’m only starting to understand the relvevance of patent issues but it’s clear that they are big. (MeeGo is ‘guaranteed’ free of IP and patent issues BTW)

    Driver issues are something else. We’ll have to wait to see MeeGo running before we comment on that.

  7. adam blufia says:

    i’m interested in the mobile / slate technology as a whole (as an end user) but lack the time (and probably faculties) to research this – as ever chippy, a concise and clear article – thankyou !

    plus, you are a king among geeks :)

  8. Nicole Scott says:

    RT @chippy: RT @umpcportal: New article: More (and More) clarification on Atom, Moorestown and Operating Systems. http://bit.ly/cARH5d

  9. theluketaylor says:

    Windows will need special hardware but there is no reason intel can’t open source the necessary support for linux and have every distro work with moorestown. I browsed through the meego kernel sources and it appears the necessary changes to boot moorestown have been open sourced. Various drivers like audio, camera and sensors are open for sure.

    Since webOS is effectively linux with webkit and a few other open source goodies HP should be able to build x86 webOS devices pretty easily since everything builds on x86. WebOS actually has a leg up since their apps are written in HTML5, Javascript and CSS developers don’t even have to recompile to support an x86 webOS device. I believe the webkit development emulator is actually an x86 build of webkit which would mean all but the moorestown enabled kernel is already done.

  10. Chippy says:

    You are right, it should be relatively easy to make a Linux build that works with SFI. I think there are already some out there. Not sure about the drivers for ‘Briertown’ though. That;s critical for power control.

  11. theluketaylor says:

    The meego kernel sources included a lot of intel fixes to the ondemand driver which is used to control clock speed based on need. The fixes were all about making the ondemand driver use more information before deciding on what clock to use, including taking I/O into account. That all points to excellent support for fine grained power management needed for moorestown.

  12. Rahul says:

    Good clarifications, thanks! Your analysis and reports are way better and accurate than other blogs who dont attempt to understand a bit of technology and call themselves mobile experts.

    Also take a look at Anandtech’s and Tech Report’s look at Moorestown. Anandtech clarifies the Windows situation with Oaktrail.

    http://anandtech.com/show/3696/intel-unveils-moorestown-and-the-atom-z600-series-the-fastest-smartphone-processor

    Techreport’s analysis is good too:
    http://techreport.com/articles.x/18866

  13. Mira says:

    Can you provide some more techinfo (or link to it) on what’s meant by “It also contains the sensor and messaging (between apps) support that Windows can’t provide.” please?

  14. JeCh says:

    Hi, I’m wondering, if the Moorestown platform will be able to run Wine (An API which allows Windows programs to run on Linux). I believe it should work since the architecture is x86.

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