Intel's Atom chip is already on a road map that shows its circuits shrinking to an infinitesimally small 15-nanometer scale, according to a presentation given this week at the Intel Developer Forum.
How small is 15 nanometers? One nanometer is the width across a few atoms (while DNA molecules measure about 2 nanometers) so, 15 nanometers would be the width of about 60 atoms.
Processors are typically categorized according to some of the smallest circuits formed during the chip's fabrication process--i.e., 45 and 32 nanometer processes. Currently, the most advanced Intel chips are made on a 32-nanometer process.
At an IDF technical session Tuesday entitled "Intel Atom Processor Based System-on-a-chip (SoC)," Raj Yavatkar, an Intel Fellow and director of SOC architecture, displayed the slide above. One of the interesting aspects of the chart is that it shows the number of Atom chips for certain market segments increasing as the process technology gets smaller.
For instance, where the chart shows only one Atom N (Netbook) series at 45 nanometers, at 22 nanometers it shows four N series processors and at 15 nanometers five N series chips. And even more Z series (handhelds and smartphones) and E series (typically embedded in car-related electronics) at 15 nanometers.
This raises interesting questions: what kind of future smartphones and tablets will pack these chips? How much better battery life can we expect along with the requisite increase in performance?