Montalvo x86 processor features asymmetric cores

More details have leaked out regarding the processor being quietly developed by Silicon Valley startup Montalvo Systems. We first reported on the chip a couple of weeks ago, when we heard the startup's team of industry veterans was working on a power-efficient x86 microprocessor meant to compete with Intel's chips in the mobile space. But aside from hearsay, a couple of patents, and some job postings here and there, very little is known about the company's project.

Despite Montalvo's secretiveness, the people at have learned from unnamed sources that Montalvo's processor employs a radically different design from that of existing x86 chips from Intel and AMD. Instead of slapping a pair (or two) of symmetric cores on a die, Montalvo's processor will feature a mix of high- and low-performance cores—a design more akin of that of the Cell BE processor co-produced by IBM, Toshiba, and Sony. Thanks to the mix of cores, says the chip will be able to reduce power consumption by "dishing applications that don't require a lot of computing firepower onto less-powerful, more energy-efficient cores." However, the site says it doesn't know for sure whether Montalvo will use the asymmetrical design to save power or increase performance in specific tasks.

If this rumor is true, Montalvo probably won't be the first x86 microprocessor maker to lump radically different processing cores onto a single chip. AMD's Accelerated Processing Unit concept is based around a similar idea: mix regular general-purpose CPU cores with specialized "accelerator" cores that can handle certain tasks much quicker. Swift, which should be AMD's first Fusion chip, will apply the APU concept by mixing a graphics processor core with three x86 processor cores. Intel, too, plans to include graphics processors in its next-generation chips, although the company hasn't publicized its plans as much as AMD.

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