At the Intel Developer Forum last week, the Santa Clara company said that its upcoming Clover Trail Atom processor — the dual-core version of Medfield that will debut with cheap Windows 8 laptops and tablets in October — “cannot run Linux.”
Clover Trail is the successor to Intel’s Medfield platform and is designed for low power mobile devices. It is a 32nm dual-core chip with Saltwell CPU cores and a PowerVR SGX 544MP2 GPU licensed from Imagination Technologies. In theory, Clover Trail is an x86 chip and thus it will run any compliant code thrown at it. Technically, there is no reason that a user can not wipe out Windows 8 and install a Linux distribution on the tablet. The issue is that Clover Trail is packed to the brim with power saving features, very few of which will work when using a Linux-based operating system.
Intel seems back up this sentiment by stating “there’s a lot of software work that has to go into a chip to support it in an operating system.” The company has worked with Microsoft to support Windows 8, and out of the box that operating system will be able to direct the special power saving modes on the Clover Trail chips. As these chips are designed to go into thin tablets, battery life is going to be an issue if the processor does not get the right information from the OS to manage power states.
Notebook Check was also in attendance at IDF, and the site reports that Clover Trail processors reduce their power usage by almost 60 times when idle. Intel has pulled this off by reducing the die size 17% and introducing several new power states such that the processor can now go from SO1 to SO3 when idling and C1 to C6 when active and working on data. And that is just the beginning!
Intel has included dedicated power management circuitry and the ability to shut off sections of the chip that are not being used to keep power draw to a minimum. In standby mode, Intel claims that Clover Trail will draw a mere 14mw. Lastly, Intel has added a Turbo Boost-like feature in the form of a burst performance mode that allows the chip to run at higher than normal clock speeds for very short amounts of time. The intention there is to allow the processor to wake up from an idle state, get work done, and return to the low power idle state as quickly as possible.
What this all comes down to is that Clover Trail is a sizable improvement over the 45nm Moorestown platform. Unfortunately, the OS needs to communicate with the processor to initiate most of the power saving features. In addition, this Atom chip will utilize a PowerVR GPU as well, which exacerbates the support issue because Intel cannot provide open source drivers, and past Atom chips with PowerVR graphics have had notoriously spotty support. While Intel stated that Clover Trail “cannot run Linux,” a better way to put it would have been to say that users should not run Linux.
There will undoubtedly be some die-hard Linux developers who will step up and provide some measure of support for Clover Trail chips, so fans will be able to get the OS running on tablets if they really want to. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, without Intel’s support OEMs are not going to ship Linux-based tablets, and DIY users will likely find that the battery life of their tablets will not be as good as with Windows 8.
While the hope of Clover Trail running Linux (well) is essentially dead, keep an eye out for Valleyview, which will support Linux. Valleyview (Bay Trail platform, due in late 2013) will feature up to four re-worked Atom cores (Silvermont), paired with Ivy Bridge’s HD 4000 graphics GPU, and crafted with Intel’s delicious 22nm process.
Intel: Clover Trail Atom chips ‘cannot run Linux’ | ExtremeTech