Next-gen Intel Atom chips to feature HD-capable GMA3600 graphics

Cedar Trail video playback

Intel’s next generation Atom processors for netbooks, tablets, and desktops are due out by year’s end, and while the Cedar Trail chips won’t offer much more processing power than today’s Pine Trail chips, it looks like they will offer much better graphics performance.

We already knew that the Cedar Trail platform would support 1080p HD video playback and Blu-ray decoding. Now Chippy at UMPC Portal has some more details.

Cedar Trail chips will feature a GMA 3600 graphics core with PowerVR technology. Intel Atom N570 and earlier netbook chips didn’t feature hardware acceleration for HD video playback, which means that HD video taxes the CPU. That’s why Atom N550 and N570 chips dual core processors can handle 720p HD video, but most single core Atom chips cannot.

The GMA 3600 graphics core, on the other hand, is designed to handle HD video decoding. Chippy reports that he watched a Cedar Trail system recently decode a Blu-ray disc with H.264 video with DTS-HD audio while the computer’s CPU usage stayed under 20 percent.

This isn’t the first time Intel has built HD video capabilities into an Atom chip. The company’s Oak Trail and Menlow chips use GMA 600 and GMA 500 graphics, respectively, both of which have some support for high definition video — but those low power chips are typically much less powerful than Pine Trail or Cedar Trail chips and are most often found these days in tablets and other fanless computer designs.

Cedar Trail still doesn’t offer hardware support for encoding video.

  • aftermath

    It’s too bad that you didn’t address the question of drivers.  Intel has done an EXCELLENT job of supporting its Atom platforms with drivers…except for the GMA 500.  It all boils down to the fact that instead of developing this graphics core, Intel simply licensed a part from an embedded hardware source.  Yikes.  This has been an absolute debacle for Intel, and Intel’s response to this debacle has been to remove all of its own graphics core technology from all of its Atom platforms and replace it with this licensed, proprietary, embedded garbage.  Everybody I know who had a GMA 500 device is going to steer clear of the whole new generation of Atom because of this.  I’m sure there are those who escaped unscathed, but I don’t know any of them.  I feel especially bad for people who had a positive experience with the more mainstream line of Atom processors who aren’t going to know that this new line is fundamentally flawed in this way.  Drivers issues won’t just be a problem, they will be a huge problem.  Driver issues doesn’t just mean missing features.  It’s far worse than that. It will mean not having the version of the driver that you need for the version of the particular operating system that you want to use.  It’s already happened with the GMA 500, and it’s still happening.  Rather than remedying these outstanding issues, Intel has decided to just inject these issues into the whole line of products.  It just doesn’t seem right to call these parts HD-capable when there’s a serious doubt that Intel will be able to support these features with drivers.

    • Anonymous

      The fact that hardware acceleration is shown to work, along with the previously released benchmark results, even with pre-final driver release is actually a good sign.  Many GMA 500 systems had problems getting even that to work and scored much worse.

      However, until final release there is no way to know how good the
      drivers are.  So there is nothing else to report until review units can
      be tested and that won’t be till December!

      So lets stop making it seem like they’re doomed before they even release the product.  The situation with Cedar Trail is not the same as it was when the GMA 500 was released.

      1) They’re not coupling it with a under powered version of the ATOM.  The Z-Series were optimized for low power usage.  Also the SGX545 is a bit of improvement over the SGX535 used in the GMA500.  Along with being higher clocked to help make up for any potential driver inefficiencies.

      2) Intel is finally serious about the new GMA, unlike before as GMA 500 was always applied to niche products and Intel was still pushing for their own GMA solution back then.  They also hired a boatload of developers when they started developing the new GMA’s, many of them specializing in Open Source drivers.

      3) In the past year there has finally been some progress on GMA 500/600 drivers and that’s likely to make it easier for them to make proper drivers for the new GMA 3600/3650.  Along with the fact they are taking extra time to work on those drivers anyway.

      4) Unlike before, Intel had no interest in supporting other OS besides Windows.  However, now they are working with other companies like Google and though they may be giving up on MeeGo there is already Oak Trail tablets shown running MeeGo and MeeGo is a version of Linux.  Meaning there is much more likely to be Open Source drivers available this time.

      While even if Intel gives up on MeeGo there is also a Linux Project developing Open Source drivers for Series 5 PowerVR GPU’s and they can use what was provided for MeeGo.  So by next year even linux users may benefit.

      So whether they can get good driver support right away or not remains to be seen, but we can’t just assume it’ll be terrible just from the experience with GMA 500.

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  • Sam Trenholme

    For the record: The GMA 5130 included with the ubiquitous Atom N455 has excellent Linux support; it works like a charm with Ubuntu and even Scientific Linux 6 (a RedHat clone without CentOS’s issues making security patches available in a timely manner).  

    I think the days of graphics chipset makers ignoring Linux (anyone else remember the Neomagic debacle?) are over and these days even brand new chipsets usually have good Linux support from the get-go.

  • Anonymous

    Intel will also be providing Linux support for Cedar Trail platform via the Yocto Linux project. http://http://www.yoctoproject.org/

    You should raise the need for open source linux support via this channel and you will be heard by Intel.