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back to article Intel unzips new Atom phone chip: Low power, fast - is that right, ARM?

Intel has been doing its best to convince anyone who’ll listen this week that its new Silvermont-based processors are a viable alternative to ARM's mobile-friendly cores. And thus it's showing off a Merrifield-powered handset, derived from the Silvermont design, for the first time and cranking up the hype around the Bay Trail …

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Competition. Yay! Good! ...and so on.

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Anonymous Coward

Wrong. Competition is about having a healthy marketplace where you have choices. Intel want to kill ARM off and have the market to themselves. These giant US companies see business like war, where the aim is to destroy the competition.

ARM is a good thing for the UK. Intel seem to be obsessed with making every single device with a CPU on the planet run an x86 processor despite it often not being the correct chip for the job.

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I see your point, but Intel pushing a bit harder (and fairly - hah!) should push ARM to get better just like ARM's given Intel the severe kick it needed to stop producing small thermal generators and start making more power efficient chips instead.

Intel wiping out ARM is a different prospect to Intel vs AMD as ARM licences it's chip designs and sub-components to be manufactured by a wide variety of companies, some of which are at least as influential as Intel.

I thoroughly agree about the x86 often not being the correct chip for the job, these are desktop PC chips at heart and while subverting them for use in mobile phones and tablets isn't inappropriate as these are genuinely portable computers often with capabilities far in excess of what we had on desktop systems ten years ago. For lesser systems such as basic PLC and control systems they are overkill and the convoluted and inefficient instruction set combined with the higher integration requirements and subsequent costs really hold them back as well.

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Intel is more open then ARM

The thing ARM aren't compeating on is openness.

It's not all performance, price and power use. It's also how easy it is to make the thing into a product. Open drivers just makes it easier. Intel are awake to this, ARM are still asleep, fighting openness even, despite the fact people use ARM to run largely open OSs and code.

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Re: Intel is more open then ARM

Is that actually true or just something you want to be true?

That statement may have some relevance if you are a RaspPi fiddling hobbyist.

How true is it for an Apple, Samsung or their Manufacturing partners?

Like it or not most open systems successes stem from the "Free as in beer model" not the essential "openess".

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Re: Intel is more open then ARM

Secure boot

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Intel is more open then ARM @Flocke Kroes

"Secure boot"

While I dunno about Intel being more open than ARM, the UEFI spec is freely available. Can you tell me what you mean here, please?

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Re: Intel is more open then ARM

The thing ARM aren't compeating on is openness. They're certainly not competing on spelling! ;-)

Inasmuch as ARM provides detailed design specifications to all and sundry they certainly are open. For manufacturers openness is less of a problem than those who write the OS. I remember a commenter a while back pointing how difficult it is not having a standard bootloader across all ARM platforms. Maybe you're referring to that? Or the "closed" source components from ARM-makers such as Broadcom.?

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Meh

Re: Intel is more open then ARM

>> Is that actually true or just something you want to be true?

If you look at (for instance) graphics drivers, then intel have embraced openness to a large extent. Some hardware never gets properly documented (one of the generations of atom IIRC) but most of their stuff is open and they even put a lot of effort into making quality drivers. Contrast this to ARM's mali stuff, which (last I looked) was in the advanced stages of reverse engineering because ARM were not publishing specs, let alone helping with driver code.

This may have changed, but graphics have been a stumbling block to truly open ARM systems for some time.

--edit-- this may no longer be true, it looks like ARM released a bunch of stuff last year.

Unsure how this applies to the likes of exynos, tegra etc etc

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Intel is more open then ARM

How is Intel more open? Sure AMD has a license but most of the newer technologies that Intel has for x86 they are not letting others use. Sure x86 is open, but you have a fragmentation in the lineup of x86 processors from the various manufacturers. To a certain degree you have that with ARM as well; Qualcomm is a good example.

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Re: Intel is more open then ARM

Depends they weren't happy when someone put an arm compatible core on opencores.org (That was developed from scratch).

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Re: Intel is more open then ARM

That would the Intel that specified the Atom N2600 as a 64-bit CPU but doesn't provide 64-bit drivers, and bundles it with their GMA-3600 graphics while declining to provide even a 32-bit Linux driver. In addition because of the Intel and Microsoft restrictions on netbook specifications, Intel will not provide any drivers for Windows-8 for the N2600/GMA3600.

Open drivers my arse, just ask everyone who bought into this Atom generation above expecting to be able to use it with Linux!

Two reasons for what happened above, it appears that Intel really didn't want Atom chips being used in servers, and they wanted to kill netbooks off completely as they were low profit lines in a competitive market. I endorse Charles Manning's comments about Intel's attitude to pricing and profitability in this thread.

Apropos Atom chips - There's still a continuing need for a small laptop, that should be dual-core, 4-8GB of DDR3, with minimum 1366x768 screen, easily achievable with a 10.1" screen, or actually readily made out of standard components with an 11" screen. But it's ruled out by the netbook specification, where the nearest equivalent Ultrabook is overkill in price.

Intel has got form on this, remember they paid computer companies to limit use of AMD-APU chips, which for a long time were better purposed for notebooks and netbooks, but they got found out.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Intel is more open then ARM

In the case of the Raspberry Pi the things that aren't "open" are not part of the ARM core, they are multimedia components like the MPEG decoder and GPU. That's hardly any different to Nvidia and ATI drivers which are required for Linux on the desktop (which most people run on x86).

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Linux

Re: Intel is more open then ARM

>> In the case of the Raspberry Pi the things that aren't "open" are not part of the ARM core, they are multimedia components like the MPEG decoder and GPU.

And the bootloader. Pi is really not all that open when it comes down to it.

nVidia drivers are indeed closed, ATI/AMD drivers not so much (IIRC) and intel graphics definitely not.

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No signs of competition yet

Faster than current Atoms, but no comparison with current ARMs. Less power than current Atoms, but no comparison with current ARMs. Lacks on chip hardware required for phones that is already in ARMs. Not one word about Intel's real challenge: competing with ARM on price. Sounds like when these chips arrive in 2014, they will not compete with ARMs in products today. I would love to see some real competition. Perhaps Intel will have something in 2015. The silly thing is that Intel had excellent ARM CPUs, but they sold the business to Marvel in 2006.

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Meh

Re: No signs of competition yet

Actually what'll be really interesting is to see what sort of power consumption and grunt can be had from a 64-bit ARM processor with a die-shrink or two from the current, conservative levels.

Maybe Intel will have something in 2015, but I suspect that the major ARM players will have moved the goalposts a fair way by then.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

Do you actually do any research or just post comments without any knowledge whatsoever? Check out the dual core atom clover trail+ in the gorgeous lenovo k900 phone. its EVERY BIT as fast as a quad core with A15 cores. Check out the antutu score of 24000. Add that to the fact that Intel THIS YEAR will be pumping out merrifield which is much faster AND consumes less power than clover trail+ it will leave A15 IN THE DUST. Add to that ARM has nothing on the horizon save for a chip SLOWER than the power hungry A15 this year, Intel is set to blow the top off the mobile market. Add to that the great lesps intel has made in the graphics arena, it all spells trouble for ARM. Sign me up.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

>Faster than current Atoms, but no comparison with current ARMs. Less power than current Atoms, but no comparison with current ARMs.

Links to benchmarks please!

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Re: No signs of competition yet

A the (in)famous JavaScript based benchmarks are rising their ugly head again. Too bad that the performance peak for ARM was based on a more modern JS engine, NOT a better performance. Same engine generation and the poor lil A15 was beaten by grandddy CloverTrail both in performance and peak power consumtion.

And A15 is "the latest and greatest" of ARM while Intel is currently bringing Baytrail to market and AMD has some "potentials" as well (If they find a company to use them)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No signs of competition yet

"Intel is set to blow the top off the mobile market. "

Are you serious? Intel may have an advantage in the datacentre and (temporarily) on the desktop, but until Intel and their SoC design/manufacturing partners (who are invisible) can make something resembling the products of years of real SoCs already available from multiple ARM-centred designers and foundries, Intel are irrelevant in the "equipment" (consumer, professional, mobile, handheld) markets. Not everyone in the world needs 64bit today or tomorrow either.

But feel free to carry on ranting.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

What an irrelevant response. 'Blow the top off' implies that yes in the 64bit and high performance space they will be the chip to beat in 2014. A dual core clover trail+ already equals the performance of the quad-core snapdragon 600 and bests the quad stock A15. If you are under the illusion that both the consumer and handset vendors won't want the most powerful chips in their handsets you are badly mistaken. Why on earth would the average home user NEED a Corei7? For email and web browsing? Do they sell? Absolutely. Intel's partners from the PC era (see SAMSUNG) would be happy to stamp Intel Inside if it proves to be far superior to exynos. Its a name synonomous with high end computing and a fantastic marketing pitch. And since Intel has their own fabs for their chips why would they need fab partners for their SoCs? Again, see lenovo K900 benchmarks. And FYI Lenovo is a household name in the MASSIVE Asian market, which dwarfs that of Europe and North America combined. A good place to start. Not a bad handset partner either right out of the gate.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

Intel means little or nothing to consumers. The business of consumer electronics is significantly different to that of the (rapidly declining PC market. Lenovo is big in CHINA but this has an awful lot to do restrictive practices (it's has a monopoly in some areas) and it hasn't really done much in the CE business in getting market share from rivals like ZTE and Huawei.

The head-to-head comparison of the Atom with ARM shows that Intel has indeed caught up in performance per Watt but, and this is more important for consumers: the multicore ARM devices are more responsive and they still have more software. Intel is obviously prepared to invest lots of money to stay at the table and, as long as this increases customer choice, this is exactly as it should be: Intel is setting hardware and process manufacturing benchmarks and ARM is dropping the price.

It would also be wrong to think that either South Korea or China are going to give up the idea of owning the full technology stack including chip design and production.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

I don't disagree it will be difficult to crack Samsung and its top to bottom manufacturing process, but even in South Korea the relationship between LG and Samsung has soured over the years, vendors are looking for any way they can to get a leg up on the juggernaut that is Samsung. And ZTE and Huawei use chips from both Qualcomm and Mediatek, so using Intel for android will have more to do with performance, feature set, and cost to bring the finished product to market. Mediatek is a unique beast in how it bundles the hardware and software stack and is almost untouchable in the low to medium end market in asia but that clearly isn't the market Intel is after at this point. The smartphone market is all about want and little about need. I have had 7 flagship androids in the past three years, certainly not out of need, and I badly want Intel Inside and will absolutely without question be buying a merrifield handset. Those that have purchased Galaxy S4 or say the HTC One have done so out of a desire to own the latest tech. if Intel Inside becomes the a justifiable fad catch phrase people will buy. Just look at all the people buying the not-even 720p iPhone 5 because it is 'magical' Speaking of which, I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple vying to be part of the North American and European Intel launch, they have always been keen to be part of Intel's latest and greatest. (See Core and thunderbolt)

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Re: No signs of competition yet

All this ranting about how Intel has already caught up with ARM and will soon blow it away leads me to ask one question. Could you please show me a phone model even in the top 100 that has an Intel CPU? Intel does have the best fab technology in the industry in general but my guess is they are going to have a hard time accepting the margins that companies like TI, Motorola, etc make on ARM chip production.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No signs of competition yet

"[Intel] is a name synonomous with high end computing and a fantastic marketing pitch. "

Not in consumer electronics outside PC's..

Not in other embedded systems.

To see how wrong you are, look around, and find an x86 outside of "IT" kit.

Now find an ARM. You've probably got half a dozen within ten metres of you, even if you can't see them.

"why would they need fab partners for their SoCs?"

Intel need design and fab partners for their SoCs if they want to be able to address as many markets in as much volume as ARM licencees already succesfully do.

The real SoC market isn't being addressed by Intel right now (they had a go back when they had an ARM licence, and actually made some nice stuff, without partners, but they sold off that business).

Intel may call these things SoCs, they may even succeed in fooling some naive folks, but in the real world of high volume low cost systems, SoC design/build partners bring a great deal to the table. Without them, ARM wouldn't be where they are today.

If Intel don't have design+build partners, they won't dent ARM's business. Maybe they don't want to, because as others have pointed out, the ARM world is a high volume low cost low margin world, which is not Intel's comfort zone.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

>SoC design/build partners bring a great deal to the table

Virtually every major semiconductor company besides Intel is an ARM licensee and churning out ARM chips. Its Intel vs everyone else which is fine in high margin unique stuff but in the lower margins everyone pretty much the same Intel is quickly going to find its overhead is going to be a real disadvantage.

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Facepalm

Re: No signs of competition yet

Eh, you've got that the wrong way around - the Galaxy S4 clearly leaves K900 in the dust: http://browser.primatelabs.com/geekbench2/compare/1979365/1970335

How is being 60% slower while having a 25% clock advantage even competing in the same league?

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Re: No signs of competition yet

You've got that the wrong way around. The only benchmark that makes Atom look vaguely competitive is Sunspider. The reason is due to Intel adding software optimizations to make the score look better. When you look at actual CPU benchmarks such as Phoronix or Geekbench then Atom trails far behind Cortex-A9 and even further behind Krait and Cortex-A15.

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Facepalm

Re: No signs of competition yet

60 percent slower, assuming geekbench is NOT optimized for ARM any more than it is for x86 any more than antutu is.. And the galaxy s4 I was referring to was the North American Snapdragon 600 version not the exynos octa that is the geekbench top dog. How about next we compare Qualcomms own vellamo benchmark scores and see how the snapdragon smokes everything including exynos octa. Granted in purely CPU numbers they both best clover trail+ by a reasonable margin but certainly not 60%, and certainly not enough to keep Intel out of the market.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

Maybe this is where Intel start properly competing.

But having read a bit more about it I still think they are not.

(It says it has twice the cpu performance of medfield and three times the gpu performance but it depends what it means. Medfield is single core this is quad core.)

They should make a phone chip based on haswell to prove they actually are the best really.

(Even if it is just a demo get rid of the nonsense that people believe incorrectly about ARM).

The Orange San Diego (On ICS) is very fast already (And actually has a sane battery life).

The Android installation is clean and decent. (At least on the Xolo stock rom anyway I never tried the Orange one). Nothing I have tried is better in a way I can see by looking on a HTC One X running Jelly Bean. (Could be HTC breaking the OS but so does everyone else other than Nexus's and it is was < 50% of the price of a 16GB Nexus 4).

ARM is overrated it is cheap for OEM's to use that is the only reason it is getting used. (And because everyone else is).

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Facepalm

Re: No signs of competition yet

Oh and... How is a supposedly well threaded cpu benchmark a 'clock advantage' to a dual core 2.0ghz CPU over a 1.9ghz quad core? You must have whizzed right through math. anyways, check out the detailed scores for antutu, it breaks down the integer and float CPU scores. Z2580 is certainly within striking distance of snapdragon 600, all the while consuming less power, having 5nm larger transistors, and half the cores.

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Re: No signs of competition yet

>ARM is overrated it is cheap for OEM's to use that is the only reason it is getting used. (And because everyone else is).

Bingo on both points which is why things are looking like a heavy lift for Intel. It has to stop a decade+ of ARM momentum in the space and do so on rather thin margins. My guess is unless Intel is ready to lose a significant amount of money for at least the next three years it doesn't have a chance in the space. That is assuming also they can blow away ARM on performance and battery life (matching is not near good enough at this point) as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No signs of competition yet

If you want an ARM CPU making you get quotes from various manufacturers and choose the best price or production speed to suit you.

If you want an Intel CPU you buy it from Intel and nobody else. Hardly a competitive environment is it?

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Re: No signs of competition yet

I have had 7 flagship androids in the past three years, certainly not out of need, and I badly want Intel Inside and will absolutely without question be buying a merrifield handset.

Okay, I think we get it - you love buying the latest and greatest whatever. Not sure this is the best qualification when talking about industrial policy, though it seems to be fine for a lot of pundits.

How have you got on with the Motorola Razr X, intel-powered and a good phone by all reports?

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Boffin

Re: No signs of competition yet

Yes comparing quad 1.6GHz A15 with 2GHz Z2580 is quite reasonable:

1. Both support 4 threads of execution

2. Hyperthreading gives a significant speedup on Atom, around 40-50% extra performance, so a single core can behave almost like a dual core.

3. Most ARM cores are quad cores, while Atom is primarily single core with some dual core variants, so we compare with the rare latter ones - the Z2580 as is the fastest mobile/tablet SoC.

4. Current Atom cores are huge, 3.5 times larger than A15, so we'll never see a quad-core version of Z2580: http://chip-architect.com/news/2013_core_sizes_768.jpg

You can also compare only single threaded performance if you prefer core-for-core IPC comparisons but then Atom looks even worse.

Antutu is a rubbish benchmark, no native code is used, it's worse than Dhrystone or Sunspider, so I wouldn't conclude anything from it. Again if you want to compare CPUs, use native benchmarks.

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Facepalm

Re: No signs of competition yet

"not enough to keep Intel out of the market"

LOL. You know Intel has 0.2% market share in mobile phones after 5 years of trying really hard (mostly with marketing)?

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Re: No signs of competition yet

RAZR x? Sounds like the still only rumoured X phone. Unless of course you mean the already released RAZR i? In which case I haven't got on at all with it. I wouldn't even consider a paltry 4.3inch screen these days, and would even less consider a qHD screen. That phone belongs in 2010. I'm a fan of Intel but not enough to take leave of my senses. I'd be buying the ZTE Nubia Z7 next, assuming it will work on North American LTE networks and assuming reports of it having the snapdragon 800 are accurate there is a good chance of that. The size is a little much for most, but I tend to use my phablets as WiFi only, and my phones in tether mode.

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How much?

Is what manufacturers will ask themselves when looking at this. As long as Intel chips are still significantly more expensive than those from nVidia, Qualcomm, TI, Samsung, MediaTek, et al. it's going to be a very hard sell.

Then there are all the additional costs of adding stuff that isn't on the chip. Customisation is bread and butter for the ARM-makers but not something Intel does a lot of.

Intel is still ahead in the manufacturing process but the last time I checked the lead wasn't so great anymore. Intel now has 22nm, ARM is moving to 28nm and moving to 22nm next year with costs spread across huge volumes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How much?

"ARM is moving to 28nm and moving to 22nm next year with costs spread across huge volumes"

ARM doesn't manufacture chips.

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Stop

Re: How much?

Who said ARM manufactured chips? Certainly not the OP.

Their licensees do and they do and they do it in huge volumes.

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20nm

Actually TSMC plans to start 20nm production this year. Obviously given the 28nm process wasn't that smooth, we'll have to see whether they pull it off. In any case 22nm Atom chips will be competing with 20nm ARMs in 2014.

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what better CPU power peformance gives, LTE takes away

How advanced is Intel's LTE development? There's a real risk that early LTE implementations on Atom will waste all the power improvements elsewhere, further delaying them reaching parity with ARM systems.

Intel are still chasing a moving target and don't seem to be attacking *all* the targets needed to succeed. It's not just about CPU/GPU performance and power consumption, it's about the rest of the system as well and getting it all onto the most compact SoC. Intel are still too focussed on just a few areas.

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Re: what better CPU power peformance gives, LTE takes away

Yes, but it has to be sold in bite-size bits to inexpert journalists.

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Flame

Here's what I want:

A laptop with a proper keyboard (i.e. all the keys - Home, End, Delete, PgUp, PgDown, F1-12), no rotating equipment, no air intakes or exhausts, minimum 1280x800 resolution screen around 10-12", 8 hr battery life, at least 32GB of storage (NAND, SSD, I don't care), ability to run full FOSS applications (LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox, Amarok, VLC) and no locked bootloader BS so I can install whatever OS strikes my fancy. I'd be willing to pay up to about $500 for it as a light travel and living room machine.

ARM Chromebooks are close, although most have gelded keyboards geared toward Google's idea of computing. The OS choice is typically limited to Chrome OS and Ubuntu also. At least, if you want to swap in a Linux distro, Ubuntu is usually what's going to have images readily available. A Slackware ARM port for the Samsung Chromebook is in the works, but the keyboard would still be a problem. If Debian or Mint were easily installable I'd live with those too.

An Android tablet with an external keyboard is also close on the hardware side, but it doesn't have all the keys, assembling a suite of basic "apps" without being nickeled and dimed or having my privacy invaded is annoying, and printing is a minefield.

My current machine in this role is a Lenovo X120e running Win7. It's got everything I want except the screen resolution, heat management, and battery life. I can't set it on the couch or my lap without blocking the bottom air intakes. It also has a 1366x768 screen, which is cramped. Win7 with all the FOSS applications I like is a good combination now.

I'd prefer an x86 processor since the choices of Linux distros and software are a lot broader. So even if Intel can't get their latest Atom down to the mW draw necessary for a phone, if they can at least come up with something that doesn't require a heat sink and fan, I'd be happy with it in a laptop. As mentioned above, x86 doesn't have all the driver issues that ARM SoCs have. But I'd like a silent machine that doesn't blow 140°F air on my leg when I actually set my "laptop" on top of my lap.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Here's what I want:

My current machine in this role is an old Toshiba AC100 running ARM Ubuntu. Battery life is 6-7 hours with the WiFi off. I paid about $200 for it. It's a bit short on memory but it's a 3-year-old design. Even so it runs all the software you describe.

It's not about the processors. It's about the manufacturers being willing to turn those processors into the gadgets that you and I want.

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