Intel’s continued drive to stake a serious claim in the mobile device market continued today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where it unveiled its latest System-on-Chip Architectures for Smartphone and Tablet devices. The follow up to the previous Medfield architecture, the new Merrifield (dual-core) and Moorefield (quad-core ) architecture SoCs will use Z3460/Z3480 and Z3560/Z3580 model names respectively and will support Intel XMM LTE cellular technology, Android 4.4 and 64-bit computing.
These two architecture designs integrate Silvermont CPU cores and represent a significant performance improvement, claiming to boost performance to approx twice that of Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 by up to 2x in certain applications. Clock speed are be a bump higher than previous gen offerings – dual core Intel Atom Z3460 at 1.6GHz, the Z3480 at 2.13GHz and quad core Z3560 at 1.8GHz and finally the Z3580 is clocked at 2.33GHz. The dual core Merrifield models will be available to manufacturers in the first half of this year, with quad core Moorefield SKUs available later this year.
The integrated GPU is provided by PowerVR in the form of either series6 G6400 and G6430 GPUs, the same class as used in the Apple A7. The PowerVR series6 architecture supports the latest Graphics APIs including OpenGL, OpenCL and DirectX.
Both Intel Z34XX and Intel Z35XX SoC designs offer front camera support for up to 13MP with 1080p 60fps video decode/encode support. Rear facing cameras offer support for up to 2.1MP. Video compression includes support for both VP8 and VP9, the latest codecs from Google.
Out-of-Order Performance Boost.
It’s important to note that all new models will be manufactured using the latest 22nm process and most notably benefit from a Silvermont micro-architecture that features out-of-order execution, as opposed to in-order execution which we’ve seen on Intel Atom processors in the past.
This is quite a landmark change for Intel and the Atom platform as a whole. Out-of-order execution means that the processor can make use of redundant operation cycles by executing processes according to data availability, not the original order as commanded by the program.
Intel has used out-of-order execution on the vast majority of its processor architecture designs going as far back as Pentium 2. However, back in 2008 with the launch of Intel Atom, the company was forced to revert to an older, in-order architecture to get the power consumption down as far as possible. While this design decision had a hugely negative impact on performance, it was deemed acceptable for low cost devices like netbooks.
With the Silvermont architecture that will feature on Merrifield in the next few months, we’re finally seeing Intel in a position to talk-up raw performance, and this is exactly what they’re doing. Here are some comparison benchmarks comparing the Apple A7 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with the Intel Atom Z3480:
Here we can see Merrifield-based Intel Atom Z3480 more than matches the web app performance of the Apple A7 and more than doubles that of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800.
Although we don’t yet have details regarding the actual thermal envelope of these new Intel Atom SoC designs yet, it’s likely to remain in the 1-2watt realm. Power draw being typically where ARM-based SoCs have excelled so it’s interesting to see Intel claiming superior battery life (above).
3D gaming performance is a crucial battlefield to today’s mobile devices, however these benchmarks show Intel in a position relatively in tandem with its competitors. The Adreno 300 GPU of the Snapdragon 800 out-performs both PowerVR series6 competitors, although it would appear that Moorefield-based processors benefit from the higher clocked G6430, compared to the Merrifield G6400.
Next Generation Integrated Low Power Sensor
With this new generation of mobile SoC Intel is also introducing an integrated low power sensor that they hope will add more intelligence to apps that access motion and gesture sensing, audio sensing and contextual analysis.
Previously 24/7 recording and analysis of sensor data could have adverse affects on device battery life, but Intel argues that this new integrated low power sensor solution is will allow apps to track and record a users data without draining power. This is ideal for apps that attempt to predict user behavior by contextually analyzing sensor data, providing intelligent adjustment of devices settings like ring-tone and wireless or network access, as well as apps that offer fitness or sleep pattern management.
Intel Atom Comes of Age
Today’s announcement highlights significant performance improvements to the Intel Atom platform. Both Intel Z34XX and Z35XX System-on-Chip offerings are fully Android 4.4 (KitKat) and 64-bit compatible. If the actual usage experience in terms of battery life is anywhere near what today’s benchmarks indicate, then Intel’s new mobile platform will arguably prove to be a vital weapon in its efforts to gain traction in today’s highly competitive mobile device market.
Real performance gains have clearly been made with these two new architectures, Intel now has its 4G support in place in a small System-on-Chip design with what seems like a very robust support for any mid to high-end Smartphone or Tablet device.
We will be covering more on this topic throughout the week here MWC 2014, and will hopefully have Merrifield powered devices to share with you.