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Defining A New Platform

Intel Clover Trail+: A New Smartphone Platform With Atom Z2580

Intel’s Atom Z2580 processor sits at the heart of the new platform, its twin x86 cores running at up to 2 GHz. Core architecture does not change from the previous generation. If you run a single-threaded app with both SoCs at the same frequency, they’ll perform identically. Dual-threaded apps are expected to run faster on Clover Trail+ though, since Android’s scheduler knows the difference between physical and logical resources, and will schedule to the second core before kicking over to the Hyper-Threaded cores. Gotta love open source, right?

Although company representatives won’t comment on the chip’s power consumption compared to Atom Z2460 or Z2480, we have to assume that, based on the same 32 nm node, twice as many host processing and graphics cores would burn through battery life faster. But Intel insists that Clover Trail+ benefits from process tuning and refined power management.

We’re told that the PowerVR SGX544MP2 graphics core not only handles the phone’s screen at 400+ PPI, but also 300 on a 7” screen or roughly 200 on a 10” display (should a vendor put Atom Z2580 into a tablet).

Medfield Smartphone Reference Design
Clover Trail+ Smartphone Reference Design
Single-core Atom at up to 2 GHz
Dual-core Atom at up to 2 GHz
1 GB LPDDR2-800 (2 GB Max.)
2 GB LPDDR2-1066
PowerVR SGX540 at 400 MHz
PowerVR SGX544MP2 at up to 533 MHz
Internal Storage
Maximum 64 GB NAND package
Maximum 256 GB NAND package
Intel XMM 6260; HSPA+ 21 Mb/s
Intel XMM 6360; HSPA+ 42 Mb/s
8 MP rear, 1.3 MP front
16 MP rear, 2 MP front
Supported Operating System
Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)

With more performance from its CPU and GPU components, Intel seems to have reached the same conclusion as Nvidia and a number of phone vendors: alongside Internet access, imaging is one of the most prevalent smartphone usages, and advanced features able to exploit a high-quality camera are great for differentiation. The Atom SoC supports still image capture up to 16 MP, burst capture at 15 FPS using 8 MP resolution, zero shutter lag with time shifting, and 1080p recording at 30 FPS.

Intel’s image signal processor, which comes from the acquisition of a company called Silicon Hive back in 2011, is fast enough that it’s able to recognize up to 32 faces in real-time—though Intel limits the number of displayed names to five, due to UI limitations. The speed of the fixed-function processor also makes it possible to capture HDR without the artifacts you’d expect from an iPhone 5 if you tried to shoot something in motion.

If you move, HDR images don't turn out well.If you move, HDR images don't turn out well.

In many ways, this sounds a lot like what we’ve just seen Nvidia introduce with its Chimera computational photography architecture. Tegra 4 employs a combination of OpenGL (GPU), Neon (CPU), and core calls to its camera (ISP), facilitating a flexible process capable of performing a number of different tasks. Intel counters that this likely comes at the cost of power, whereas its ISP has custom hardware for some of the same features. That’s not to say Intel doesn’t touch its CPU and GPU cores—load-balancing is used to balance processing on either side of the ISP.  

Clover Trail+: An Intermediate Step

Without question, Intel’s impending shift to 22 nm manufacturing for Atom represents the largest window of opportunity for the company to assert itself. Until that happens later in 2013, though, we have Clover Trail+.

The low-level speeds and feeds folks are going to look at this platform and see twice as many x86 cores, a much more capable graphics engine, up to twice the RAM, as much as double the NAND storage, and an evolved camera.

At a high level, however, Clover Trail+ is incremental, allowing Intel to update its reference phone, a year’s worth of optimization work, and the feature list (largely enabled by more potent hardware). There’s no word from Intel on whether this platform supports LTE, though the company does update Clover Trail+’s cellular modem to the HSPA+-compatible XMM 6360.

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