Intel Bay Trail: Chipmaker doubles tablet performance as it takes fight to ARM

Intel Bay Trail: Chipmaker doubles tablet performance as it takes fight to ARM

Summary: Intel today unveiled its new family of chips designed to challenge ARM in the tablet market - promising to deliver a two times performance boost on its earlier tablets and support a raft of new Windows 8 and Android tablets.

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Chipmaker Intel today unveiled the hardware it hopes will help it establish a much-needed foothold in the burgeoning tablet market.

Getting more Intel chips inside tablets is increasingly important for Intel as sales of desktop and laptop PCs — a market Intel has dominated for decades — dwindle, while tablets are forecast to sell in ever larger numbers.

Intel is hoping to persuade tablet makers to swap out the ARM-based low power Risc chips that sit inside the majority of tablets today for the Intel Bay Trail platform - specifically its Atom Z3000 series of System on a Chips (SoCs).

The Z3000 is Intel's second recent attempt to break into the mainstream tablet market, after its earlier Atom SoCs – inside its Clover Trail and Clover Trail+ platforms - only made it into a relatively small number of tablets.

On the face of it the Z3000 series addresses some of the criticisms levelled at Clover Trail, primarily it's faster and allows tablets to run for longer off the same battery.

Annette Jump, research director in Gartner's worldwide consumer technology and markets team, said: "The biggest issue with Clover Trail was the performance, it was very slow on some of the tablets that vendors had used.

"The expectation is the performance is that Bay Trail's performance will be significantly better."

Performance

Compared to Intel-based tablets today Bay Trail tablets will perform better at general tasks like browsing the web - with two times the central processing performance – and specialised tasks like watching high definition video and playing games - with three times the graphics performance, according to Intel benchmarks.

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Image: Intel
bay-trail-bench3
Image: Intel
bay-trail-gaming
Image: Intel

More importantly for Intel's ambition to carve out part of the tablet market, Bay Trail tablets will outperform competing tablets running mid to high-end Arm-based SoCs. Bay Trail tablets outpace ARM-based platforms, such as Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and 800 SoCs and Nvidia Tegra 3 and 4 chipsets, according to Intel benchmarks.

intel-bt-bench1
Single-threaded and multi-threaded peak CPU performance estimates for compute intensive applications vs. ARM tablets. Image: Intel

However Intel's performance claims are comparing Bay Trail and ARM-based tablets on the basis of specific benchmarks chosen by Intel, as well as not including Android-based testing, so are not necessarily indicative of a general performance gap, according to ARM.

"Frankly we do not put any weight behind Intel's benchmarking when they use compilers that are specially tuned to deliver better benchmark results on the x86 architecture. If you use standard production tools for building the common operating systems and applications, the story is different," said an ARM spokesman.

A further point is that the first ARM-based processor based on the next generation, 64-bit v8 architecture - the Apple A7 found inside the iPhone 5S - will be out this month, and as new v8 ARM-based processors follow this may further diminish any performance gap between Intel and ARM-based mobile and tablet platforms.

Battery life is of key importance to any mobile device, and on this front Intel claims Z3000-based tablets with a 30 watt-hour battery can last for eight hours of video playback and three weeks in standby. Earlier benchmarks by Intel have claimed Bay Trail uses around five times less power for general computing tasks than its predecessors.

Price

Bay Trail SoCs are aimed at tablets and convertible laptop/tablets with screen sizes below priced at $599 or below and will ship in a range of tablets running Windows 8 and Android, ranging down to below $100 in price. The first of these tablets will ship during the Christmas holiday season this year. For more expensive tablets Intel has the higher priced Haswell processor, which Intel says should "deliver 2x scalability" beyond Bay Trail for "key productivity usages".

By targeting Bay Trail SoCs at cheaper, smaller tablets and the more powerful Intel Haswell Core processors at more demanding tablets and convertible PCs, Intel can pitch a processor at the right price and with the necessary performance for both the high and low-end tablet and PC market, said Gartner's Jump.

"Many of the vendors will be quite keen to integrate the new processors [Bay Trail] because that would allow them to reach lower price points on the tablet and they wouldn't get all the negative comments in terms of the performance."

The lower specced Bay Trail systems, the dual core Z3600 series will be used primarily for seven-inch Android tablets, while the higher end, quad-core Z3700 series will be used in both Windows and Android devices.

Another factor that held Clover Trail back from wider adoption was arguably Intel's failure to persuade more tablet makers to put the chip inside their flagship devices. Intel is promising it will rectify this with Bay Trail – saying the processor will be in "far more" Android and Windows 8 tablets "out of the gate", and is due to reveal who that will be today.

Supporting the Android OS, and not just Windows 8, is a smart move for Intel, said Jump, as it allow tablet makers to price Bay Trail tablets more competitively with competing tablets running rival chipsets.

"It is very clever, as many of the Android-based systems could be positioned at much more aggressive price points. The price premium with Windows OS for a smaller screen size is much higher and therefore increases the overall price to the end users," she said.

The specs

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Intel Bay Trail SKUs aimed at tablets and convertible PCs. Image: Intel

The Z3000 series ranges from SoCs with a top speed of 1.8GHz up to 2.4Ghz, is available in both dual and quad core configurations and with 1MB or 2MB of shared cache. Memory ranges from 1GB to 4GB depending on the processor.

While the clock speed of the processors is rated at up to 2.4GHz Intel says that processors will not be able to run at the maximum listed speeds indefinitely but rather will run be able to "burst" to these speeds for as long as they are operating below specified voltage, current and temperature limits.

The Z3000's graphics are improved over the previous generation Clover Trail+ SoCs. However the Bay Trail tablet platform features an Intel HD GPU from its Ivy Bridge generation of Core desktop processors, rather than the faster Intel Iris graphics chip found in its lastest generation of Core processors, known as Haswell. The Z3000's Intel HD integrated graphics card supports DX11, Open GL 3.0, has four execution units, with eight threads per unit, and can increase its clock speed to 667MHz for limited periods of time. There is full hardware acceleration of video decoding for popular codecs, including H.264, VC1, and MPEG-4/H.263.

The Bay Trail tablet platform supports displays with a resolution of up to 2560 by 1440 at 60Hz refresh rate via eDP 1.3 or DP 1.2 and can output to a 1080p display via HDMI 1.4. It can also drive two separate display, allowing for picture-in-picture or for two separate images to be shown on the tablet and an external display.

Built-in cameras should be able to capture 1080p video at 60 FPS, and also benefit from digital video stabilisation, burst mode, a "zero shutter lag" and "continuous capture" feature and low light noise reduction due to the built in image signal processor. Front-facing image sensors support up to 13 megapixels image capture and two megapixels on internal facing sensors;Video post-processing technology will also allow shaky or blurry video to be "corrected" while it is being played, according to Intel.

Although wireless connectivity wasn't spelled out, Intel recently demoed a Bay Trail-based tablet connecting via LTE using Intel's;XMM 7160 multimode celluar baseband chip.

The Z3000's performance and battery life improvements over current-gen Intel tablet processors is in part made possible by a number of fundamental architectural and design changes in Bay Trail from Intel's earlier SoCs. The Silvermont microarchitecture of Bay Trail's CPU cores features out of order instruction execution, which increases the amount of work the processor can do in each cycle, as well as introducing other optimisations. Intel has focused on improving the processors ability to run single threaded applications, as it says majority of applications today are single-threaded.

Bay Trail SoCs are also manufactured using a 22nm transistor process technology, compared to 32nm for current-gen Intel tablet SoCs, and is its first tablet platform to be made using Intel's 3D Tri-Gate transistors.

The Z3000 SoCs also feature a number of power management features – power can be shared between processor cores, the GPU, the camera and the display depending on usage, for instance allowing several CPU cores to run at a higher than base clock speed while the GPU is powered down, see below. Battery life is also boosted by Intel Display Power Saving Technology 6.0, which reduces the backlight but compensates for lost light by enhancing the on-screen image.

baytrail-power-sharing
Image: Intel

Despite Bay Trail tablet SoCs being built around a 64-bit processor core the platform will not be able to run a 64-bit version of Windows 8 when the first tablets are released this year. The omission will mean that the higher end systems with 4GB of memory will not be able to address and take full advantage of the entire 4GB, but only about 3.5GB. Intel said an update to Windows in the first quarter of 2014 will enable Z3000-based tablets to run the 64-bit version.

Memorywise Bay Trail SKUs supports both single and dual channel LPDDR3 at 1067 MHz, for higher performance tablets, and single channel DDR3L-RS 1333 at 1333MHz. The bandwidth to the memory bandwidth is almost two and a half times what Intel has on Clover Trail. Bay Trail gives you 6.4GBps and can go up to 17.1GB.

For storage the Z3000 SoC supports SDCard and eMMC, with test platforms shown running 64GB eMMC solid state storage. The platform also supports USB3 and USB2.

bay-trail-system-design
Intel Bay Trail SoC diagram. Image: Intel

Topics: Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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Talkback

28 comments
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  • Will Apple dump ARM and converge the entire Apple Stack on Intel?

    Counter to the Convergence to ARM it looks like convergence to Intel could be much more feasible.
    greywolf7
    • Apple has already converged the two dominate desktop OS systems.

      Apple uses their Boot Camp software and supports third party VM software products (like Parallels and Fusion) to facilitate both OS X and Windows ecosystems on one hardware platform.
      kenosha77a
      • Except it doesn't do touch...

        ...ironically, for a company that is enamored with touch, they don't have it on their laptops, so you get an underwhelming experience when using the touch centric Windows 8.
        gomigomijunk
        • Windows 8.x

          defines underwhelming...touch or no touch.
          paebin2s
        • invalid argument

          Idk who you're talking about. This article is about Intel's new low power chips. Intel did not design or take part in the creation of windows 8, nor does it force manufacturers to add touchscreens to their devices. Microsoft also has no say in whether a manufacturer puts in a touchscreen. That decision is up to the manufacturer, and in turn, the consumer.

          If you want a good experience in a new market, educate yourself. A lack of education of technology is the largest reason people become frustrated by learning that their new, cheap gadget "Can't do that"
          John Goldsmith
          • nvrmnd

            I seem to have skipped over that first apple comment, which is irrelevant to the article
            John Goldsmith
      • Parallels is pretty awesome - bootcamp is not convergence & lame fail

        Drivers and lack of full features plus deficiencies with the keyboard makes Windows on MAC suboptimal at best. Just virtualize the MAC on a PC, its a better way to solve the problem.
        greywolf7
      • You've got that another way around

        It was third party VM software product supporting virtualization on Mac platform.

        Had Apple supported 3rd party VMs vendors (Parallels/Fusion/Virtualbox) on system level they wouldn't be merely Type-2 Hypervisors.
        Samic
    • Doubtful that Apple will drop ARM

      Apple has far more control over their ARM-based designs than they do with Intel chips. Plus, their tablet OS already performs extremely well, so a jump to Intel isn't as necessary as it is with a fatter OS like Windows. Personally, I see iOS running on "iPad Airs" in the not too distant future thanks to the A7 64 bit design. I'm talking crazy-thin "tablet with a keyboard" devices which resemble the current Macbook Air, but running iOS super fast on a touch screen and lasting 20 hours on a single charge.

      What concerns me is that Intel hasn't shown how the thermal properties, performance, and battery life compare inside actual working devices. A thin, sealed enclosure reduces a lot of laboratory test bench chip performance. If the tablet runs so hot you can cook an egg on it, that's a huge detractor. If the battery it requires in order to get 10 hours is gargantuan in size, that's another huge detractor. In other words, the chip performance isn't the only aspect of a tablet CPU they need to match. It needs to work as well within the same device design constraints. People don't want to give up thin and light just so they can say "Intel inside."
      BillDem
      • Apple Migration

        Apple has migrated away from two CPU architectures - Motorola 68000 and IBM's PowerPC - because the chip designers weren't going in the direction Apple wanted to go.

        Now that Apple has asserted some control over their silicon future, you can bet they won't be in any hurry to abandon their investment.
        varase
  • But when do we start to see the goods?

    I'm eager for something like the Dell Lattitude 10 running on Bay-Trail hardware. My next computer purchase is going to be a battle between a Haswell Surface Pro 2 and a small Bay Trail convertible. If the Surface Pro 2 isn't noticeably thinner than the current Surface Pro and Bay Trail tablets live up to their promised performance and battery life claims, I may well go with the latter.
    dsf3g
  • If only performance were their only woe

    As it was, the Atom CPUs were far faster than ARM. Intel's problems on tablets have been multifaceted:

    1. Intel CPUs are far more expensive than ARM. These chips may have improvements in this area, but is it enough?

    2. Intel CPUs had far greater power requirements than ARM. These chips are better, but are they better enough? I notice lots of comparisons with ARM when it comes to performance, but nothing when it comes to power. Why not?

    3. Windows requires a lot of resources, not just CPU. RAM and flash in particular have to be a lot better configured on a Windows tablet than e.g. Android. Windows isn't going to get a lot leaner, so Windows tablets are still going to be relatively expensive.

    4. If you're not running Windows, it hardly matters whether or not you run Intel. You might as well save the money and the power.
    jimfrost
    • 1 & 2. No.

      1. The cost of the higher end ARM SoCs to OEMs is between $20-30, the cost of a Clover Trail ATOM was about $40 and by all reports the switch to 22nm has brought the production cost for Bay Trail down quite a bit allowing them to be much more price competitive.

      2. Anandtech's look at a preview Bay Trail Z3770 shows that under load the chip draws between 1 & 2.5W. A Tegra 4 ARM, according to Notebook Check's analysis of a Toshiba Excite Pro tablet as an example, draws between 9 & 13W under load, giving the chips a significant thermal throttling problem when passively cooled as evidenced by the fact Nvidia chose to actively cool the chip in their Shield.
      Daishi83
      • Re: the switch to 22nm has brought the production cost for Bay Trail down q

        No it hasn't. The switch to a new process means another expenditure of $3 billion (likely more now) on a new fab that has to be recouped through chip sales. Remember the primary ingredient of a silicon chip is sand. The unit cost of making each chip is peanuts, it's the huge fixed cost of building the fab that is the main expenditure.

        Look up "Rock's Law".
        ldo17
    • Power

      The power requirements a directly correlated to the battery life and those were mentioned. Competitive, but not great would be how to describe them.
      hayneiii
  • Trade-offs: ARM versus Intel ...

    Users love to compare ARM running Android/iOS to Intel running Windows but it is a false comparison.

    ARM gets longer battery life - not because it is more efficient, but - because ARM does not have to deal with a fully-functional preemptive multitasking operating system.

    This is precisely why the iPad DOES NOT RUN Mac OS X. (And why the Surface RT is ARM-based, at least for now.)

    A Preemptive multitasking system is simply overkill on a tablet with a small screen on which the user can only do one thing at a time.

    Most tablet buyers either (1) already own a late-model PC or Macintosh, or (2) do not want/need a PC do everything they want to do with their tablet.

    This is especially true of IT Professionals. The advantage of the Surface RT is that it is a perfect "companion device" for the tablet user who also owns a PC because they are 100% compatible so that the ONLY thing that Windows RT cannot do is run legacy applications - it does everything else Windows! That means, from the Surface RT I can access my work desktop from literally anywhere.

    If I am looking for a replacement notebook, the Surface Pro can provide me with both a tablet and a full-blown PC. The trade-off is battery life but I have to ask ... how often are we really more than five hours away from a power outlet.
    M Wagner
  • Multi-tasking

    Actually the ARM was first implemented in the Acorn Archimedes with RISC OS, a multi-tasking OS capable of multiple windows on screen, anti-aliased outline fonts, drag and drop between applications windows etc. That was on an 8 MHz processor in 1989 with no floating point hardware never mind GPU ;-). I should think modern ARM processors would be able to manage multiple on screen Windows. In schools, for example, > 5 hrs battery life is essential. It is on longer flights if you can't afford business class. I regularly do a 2 hour train journey to London and back and can't guarantee I can find a plug socket. I'd far rather have a long life battery than worry about minor hardly perceptible performance improvements. But then I don't see me using my portable technology for high-end 3D gaming. If it can run a decent quality film I'd rather be able to watch a few of those without constantly looking for power sockets. Another consideration is that ARM license other people to produce chips at very low cost. If its good enough it will be difficult to displace. Look at Windows, for a good bit of time it wasn't good enough but it never really got challenged until phones moved up into the portable space. I don't see INTEL as a disruptive innovator.
    INGOTIAN
  • Intel Has Been “Taking The Fight To ARM” For The Last Five Years

    Remember Intel's "full Internet experience" campaign from 2008? They claimed they were already two years ahead of ARM back then. Ha-ha.

    Ever since then, they keep promising that each new generation of Atom chips will finally be the clincher that will match or beat ARM. Only it never does.
    ldo17
    • Agreed

      its always the next chip that will win the battle. Meanwhile ARM keeps pulling away in large numbers.

      If anything the new iPhone 5s 64bit SOC is an indication that Apple may move OS X to ARM in the future if they keep getting more powerful.
      paebin2s
      • MacOS X on ARM

        I doubt that Apple will take its mainstream PCs to ARM - it'd kill boot camp and Windows virtual machines.

        OTOH, I could easily see something like a Chromebook competitor running an a descendant of A7 ...
        varase