Intel 'Clover Trail' Atom processors won't support Linux

By Lee Kaelin on September 17, 2012, 9:30 AM

Intel has detailed Atom’s successor at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, previewing Clover Trail’s power efficiency tweaks as well as revealing that the next generation of portable devices running Intel’s new processor will be incompatible with Linux.

The firm’s Atom processors have proven a popular choice for computer systems requiring low-cost and power efficient chips, which has resulted in them powering a host of devices from mini-servers to drive storage products and ultra-small form factor computers. They have also been widely used in ultra-portable and inexpensive netbooks.

Just like Clover Trail’s predecessor, the chip continues to target low-cost netbooks and tablets, but this time around it is exclusively “a Windows 8 chip” and “cannot run Linux,” Intel said at IDF.  The company will not be providing any support for Linux, and that presumably means Android as well. Though the company gave no official reason for the decision, it did quietly claim it was because “there’s a lot of software work that has to go into a chip to support it in an operating system.”

Instead, the chipmaker is showing its full support for computers, notebooks, and tablets running Microsoft’s Windows 8. Given that ARM chips dominate the tablet market and are expected to power several Windows RT products it seems a very curious move. Tablets running the new Atom chips will likely be priced to compete with the iPad rather than Android-based tablets like the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7.

Intel spent considerable time highlighting is the new P-states and C-states power management features of the new Atoms, which completely shut down the clock of a core and enable the chip to run for longer in Windows. The firm says the OS needs to provide “hints” to the processor in order to make use of it, which could be the reason Linux is unable to use the processors.

That said, the Clover Trail platform still uses the x86 instruction set. It also borrows a lot of technology from its predecessor, so it shouldn’t be an impossible task for the Linux community to add support for the new chips in future kernel updates. It might put off OEMs using Linux-based software though, as they’re not likely to use them in the absence of support from Intel.

Curiously, just last week the company revealed that it had finished porting Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to smartphones running on its "Medfield" Atom processors, so it doesn't look like the company will be shunning Linux support on all its product lines. The 22nm sucessor to Medfield, codenamed Merrifield, is expected to arrive sometime in the first half of 2013 and will most likely still support Google's Android OS.




User Comments: 14

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Zeromus said:

Well with due time, given that they'll release any white papers, the kernel devs will eventually get around to it. Here's to hoping1

Guest said:

Well, it is not like every processor in the world is gonna be a "clover trail" atom.

1 person liked this | Zeromus said:

Hm, there's a "medfield", too bad they didn't call this one "cloverfield".

Guest said:

On the ARS site they said it was because Microsoft made an exclusive deal with Intel on this particular chip. This is so MS can use advanced power functions. All in all it doesn't sound like that big of a deal and that if the Linux community wants to figure out how to use this chip they will. With that said, it would be nice to have AMD or some other company as a better competitor of Intel.

Guest said:

No! News got this the wrong way round again...

The OS runs on the CPU, not the CPU on the OS as it would have to be if 'cloverfield' processors didn't support Linux. Linux supports a particular processor in its kernel code, not the other way round! It probably won't take long to see what hints ye Old'e Windows Kernel is giving to the processor core. Obviously the Chip will run linux easily, just not to its full potential. Except if Intel went Anal and put a 'kernel identifier' routine into the CPU core. Which would be just stupid, incredibly so and very non-Intel'ligent.

Zeromus said:

No! News got this the wrong way round again...

The OS runs on the CPU, not the CPU on the OS as it would have to be if 'cloverfield' processors didn't support Linux. Linux supports a particular processor in its kernel code, not the other way round! It probably won't take long to see what hints ye Old'e Windows Kernel is giving to the processor core. Obviously the Chip will run linux easily, just not to its full potential. Except if Intel went Anal and put a 'kernel identifier' routine into the CPU core. Which would be just stupid, incredibly so and very non-Intel'ligent.

But the article just said the cpu introduced new power states that possibly could be the reason why **they're** not support linux, I.e. contributing to the kernel.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

No! News got this the wrong way round again...

The OS runs on the CPU, not the CPU on the OS as it would have to be if 'cloverfield' processors didn't support Linux. Linux supports a particular processor in its kernel code, not the other way round! It probably won't take long to see what hints ye Old'e Windows Kernel is giving to the processor core. Obviously the Chip will run linux easily, just not to its full potential. Except if Intel went Anal and put a 'kernel identifier' routine into the CPU core. Which would be just stupid, incredibly so and very non-Intel'ligent.

Afraid you are only half right. The problem is that Intel changed and added a huge amount of internal functionality and code hooks. Typically, when fundamental changes are being made, Intel works closely with operating system coders to be sure everything works together well. In many cases, the OS programmers are directly using Intel-developed code to correctly hook into the CPU functions.

However, in this case, Intel chose to work closely with Microsoft to ensure that Win8 would work flawlessly, but snubbed the Linux development community. It was a conscious choice, and pretty smart financially - Intel is betting on Win8 and the Pro versions of Surface to be hits, and has set up Clover Trail to ride the wave in. Only having to deal with Microsoft/Win8 on the development side cuts development costs (mostly in compatibility programming at the end).

Linux will only be able to truly work 100% with Clover Trail when all of the internal documentation for the chip is released, Intel works with Linux developers, Linux developers completely reverse-engineer all of the changes, or some combination of those options. At this point, Linux is essentially the ignored bastard step-child and Win8 is the privileged prodigal son.

Guest said:

"Intel clover trail atom processor won't support linux"

because

"Intel has just finished android 4.1 Jelly bean port for x86 phones"

MrAnderson said:

Looks like Intel is trying to put a wrench in the up take of Atom's use in low power server configuartions. It canabalizes sales on their intended server platforms, which of course cost more.

I don't know much about the Android kernal, but if it is Linux based, whatever work Intel did to ready Android for the Medfield might be helpful to getting Linux back on track. The question is, is the x86 code made available???

Guest said:

How many ignorant people out there perpetuate the LIE that Android is an OS?

Android is a User Interface running in JAVA, on top of a Linux OS....

Get that straight... do a little research, and enlighten your life a little...

Guest said:

Android does not have a kernel... but the Linux it runs on top of DOES...

Android is a Java Implementation of a User Interface for a small footprint Linux distribution.

The standard parts of X86 code should be supported by most Linux OS's... it's the new low power states and other new features that will have to be ported to the Linux kernel for FULL support..

I think the article should have said this chip is not FULLY supportive of running Linux with all features enabled...

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

This makes the Clover Trail an ASIC design rather than a General Purpose processor.

I love it - - hardware vendors win some / loose some by the choices they make.

With declining margins on chips, someone will pay dearly for the loss of some users.

ankur321 said:

I am using E7500 core 2duo2.93ghz intel processor with 2 gb ra, 1gb graphic card, my syste support which version of linux

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