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2008 - Intel Atom: High Performance No Longer Needed

All the way through the history of computing manufacturers of central processing units (CPUs) advertized only one characteristic of their microprocessors: performance. While sometimes around the middle of the decade both AMD and Intel started to point to new qualities of chips like energy-efficiency, performance-per-watt, cost of the platform, the majority of consumers still believed in pure performance. With Atom chip introduced in 2008 the world's largest maker of chips simply ignored performance factor: the only thing Atom should deliver was good-enough speed in basic computing applications.

Although performance of central processing units has been increasing rather rapidly for many years, a lot of consumers did not need that performance to check email, browse the Internet and do other basic tasks. What they did need, however, were small form-factor and weight, low price and ability to make their simple daily tasks. Intel understood this demand and designed its Atom chip from the ground-up to meet those requirements.

Instead of down-clocking existing processors and reducing their cache sizes, Intel took an in-order Pentium-class core (from the year 1993), added a number of modern extensions, Hyper-Threading technology, increased clock-speeds to 800MHz - 1.86GHz and added numerous power management techniques, such as Intel Deep Power Down Technology (C6), CMOS mode, Split I/O power supply and so on. As a result, the company got a chip with 47 million of transistors produced using 45nm process technology, which cost a few dollars to build and could run Windows, an email client, a browser, a text-processor, music player and some other basic applications.

Thanks to very low cost ($40 - $60) and power consumption of around 4W - 6W, Intel Atom quickly gained popularity among makes of small form-factor low-cost notebooks, which were named netbooks. In 2008 the company sold tens of millions of Intel Atom and the chips established a completely new category of products.

The launch of Intel Atom in 2008 marked a split in the trend of mainstream CPU evolution. One line of microprocessors continues to progress rapidly and conquer new performance heights, another breed of chips is advancing slowly so that to fulfill basic computing demands at low power and low cost. Moreover, unveiling the Atom core Intel clearly declared plans to enter the market of smartphones with system-on-chips featuring that technology.

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