Acer Iconia W510 Tablet: A Tale Of Intel Vs. ARM And Acer Vs. Apple

Some folks still say that the x86 ISA will never catch up to ARM when it comes to efficiency. Our granular power analysis demonstrates just how efficient x86-based CPUs can be, though. But how does Intel compete when we dig deeper into user experience?

This article was supposed to go live several months ago. Beyond measuring the power consumption of Intel's Clover Trail-based Atom Z2760 in ARM Vs. x86: The Secret Behind Intel Atom's Efficiency, we wanted to evaluate the Atom and Windows 8 user experience using Acer's Iconia W510 as our example. By the time we finished up, we had a whole new appreciation for how solid hardware and a well thought-out product are not necessarily tied together. Acer has a long road ahead.

We all love good stories about underdogs triumphing in the face of adversity. It’s the classic hero’s journey, from fictional characters like Rocky Balboa and Harry Potter to the real-life long-shots like the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team. When it comes to tablets and smartphones, Intel and Microsoft are the ones looking to claw their way into mobility. Here, ARM and its licensees (Qualcomm, Nvidia, TI, Apple, and so on) are the success story. ARM's architecture is the belle-of-the-ball, offering high efficiency and high-enough performance, while x86 is the step-sister, toiling away in the attic.

But when you hear those classic stories about triumphant underdogs, there's a simple truth: they're not about weaklings who topple invincible Goliaths. The dark horse was never weak in the first place. Instead, they toppled the favorite when a more formidable adversary failed to see talent that was there all along. To coaches like Herb Brooks, there was never any doubt that the Russians could be beaten.

These stories are few and far between though, which is why they're special. And often, calling someone or something an underdog is just a nice way to say hopelessly outclassed.

We're looking at two match-ups today: Intel versus ARM, and Acer versus Apple.

Is ARM the company challenging the Goliath Intel using a RISC architecture, validated by Steve Jobs' favor in the original iPhone? Or is Intel actually the underdog, a company that nobody believes can match great performance with comparable efficiency in an unforgiving power envelope?

And then there's Acer, a company most often associated with low-end PCs. Yet, with its Aspire S7, it created one of the market's best Ultrabooks. A decade ago, Samsung was the up-and-comer, contesting Sony in the consumer electronics space. Now who's on top? Ten years ago, Blackberry and the Palm Treo were king. So, does Acer have what it takes to truly challenge the colossus Apple?

We can begin to answer both questions by looking at Acer's Iconia W510. Why is this tablet, specifically, unique? Well, it represents a closer collaboration between Intel and an OEM than anything seen before. A number of the processor giant's top engineers spent months taking intercontinental trips to Taiwan to help Acer design the device, along with the W710 and S7 Ultrabooks. The Iconia W510 is not simply an Acer-developed piece of hardware, but rather the product of collaboration

Our story begins at Intel...

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  • Priox
    "Because shipping was on my tab and only the keyboard was broken, I shipped it on its own."

    You made a massive assumption here to save yourself a few bucks in shipping costs. Your assumption was wrong, and the delay in processing your RMA is all on you.

    Acer manufactures and sells the dock together as a single unit. They separate physically but they are still both part of the same product. It is very reasonable and logical that they would want to examine both together in order to determine the cause of the problem.

    It is not reasonable or logical to compare the Acer W510 dock to a keyboard or mouse for a Mac Pro. Keyboards and mice are not system specific and are highly interchangeable. Your Acer tablet may function without the dock, but the dock does not function without the tablet; it's a system dependent peripheral.

    Next time you make an assumption that turns out to be wrong, I hope you'll accept some responsibility for it.
  • ta152h
    What does "Since I never notebooks for repair with their hard drives, I spent time scrubbing my data." mean?

    As if the whining about having to send the full unit in wasn't bad enough (anyone with any technical knowledge would know to send the complete system, instead of being miserly), but then bad English.

    This was a really bad article.
  • Bloob
    Not surprising, I have yet to buy anything Acer which works well. The products may just fill the exact function they are advertised to, but not a hair more.
  • adgjlsfhk
    so pretty much what I got from this was that
    a. this is a good tablet, much better than an ipad
    b. it crashes if you try to do things that no ipad could ever do (full pc games)
    c. customer service sucks

    don't read the article, this has all the info
  • mayankleoboy1
    The Google Octane benchmarks are completely bogus for IE10 VS Chrome on SB-E .

    Chrome currently performs best in Octane. Nearly matched by Firefox. IE10 is nowhere near these two.
    Either you took a busted Canary build, or there is something wrong with the test setup.
    BTW, why are you testing a Canary build here ? Those are very unstable, and perf goes up and down.

    Could you try the latest release Chrome and retest ?
  • hons
    so pretty much what I got from this was that
    a. this is a good tablet, much better than an ipad
    b. it crashes if you try to do things that no ipad could ever do (full pc games)
    c. customer service sucks

    don't read the article, this has all the info

    Plus -------- Acer needs him to pay the shipping charge!!!!!!!!
  • xtremeways
    I agree, this was a bad article. Acer's customer service is widely known as crap. Nothing new there, but as someone in the IT field you should have already known this. Armed with this knowledge you should have done everything by the book and not assumed you could just send the dock. I rather had read one of those 20 picture articles than this one. Sorry dude.
  • duckwithnukes
    Who is this guy? Why the rant? Very poor article.
  • Onus
    I just don't get it. So many companies no longer understand, that service is everything. Niche consumers (e.g. do-it-yourself enthusiasts) may not need service, but they're a niche; a tiny percentage of the market. To everyone else, if the product isn't perfect, the service better be, or they'll find something else. Could this explain why so many people are willing to pay the "Apple Tax?"
  • ojas
    I have performance numbers for an overclocked six-core PC in there just to remind everyone that the death of the desktop is still a premature proclamation.

    I have a 9 year old 1.7 GHz Single core Pentium M that can prove the same. Sunspider (0.91) score running Chrome (v24) was 544.6 +/- 6%. 1GB DDR RAM, Windows XP, Intel IGP. Don't remember the clocks.

    Sunspider's sensitive to IPC and clock speeds, doesn't seem to care much about core count, as the rest of my little test went like this:

    Core i7-3517U @ 2.4 GHz + Turbo = 208
    Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.77 GHz = 210.3
    Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4 GHz = 262.4

    All within a 2% error margin.
  • ojas
    Forgot to mention, operating systems were:
    Win 8
    Win 7 HP
    Mac OSX Snow Leopard

    All x64.
  • godfather666
    What the PC business really needs is a company with Apple-like customer service and build quality. Too bad all the players are in no position to pull that off.
  • ojas
    Agree with your Win 8 eval, well, mostly.

    Intel had sent me a Sony Vaio E14A and an XPS 12. Both touch enabled.

    On the Sony, i only used metro to pass time (basically to try it out), otherwise i sat n the desktop...and to be honest, the additional $250 for a touchscreen didn't seem worth it. I did feel like poking at metro, so that's a win, probably, but the entire UI was so cut up...

    You constantly had to juggle between both and...every time i'd want to click the start button, i'd freeze, remind myself what was going to happen, and then either avoid clicking or...well, click.

    Charms are weird with the mouse. I finally figured why it's called the charms bar: you have to wave your cursor like a wand! :D

    But's just too cut up. Same for the XPS 12 in tablet mode. Had to keep going to the desktop for some odd thing, and touch is difficult there. There was also one time when the software keyboard didn't show up, i couldn't understand how to force it, so i had to resort to useing the old on-screen keyboard.

    Did you notice how you can't reposition the text cursor by tap-and-holding? You have to use those arrow keys on the keyboard! WP8 is better, thankfully, though that lacks a file system and a decent music app (and a task manager, and a...)...

    By biggest complaint with Dell ultrabooks is that they insist on blowing hot air into your lap. Total hybrid-ultrabook killer.
  • ojas
    Forgot to add: the E14A was a pretty well built thing, except that touch + win 8 was unnecessary. Solid performer, though, beat the reference i7-960 in Cinebench 11.59 (1.31 single core, 5.85 multi-core).

    Didn't break 72*C under prime95 (any test) for 10 mins, holding 2.93 to 3 GHz. A core i7-3632QM is mean.

    Sad it had Windows 8, touchscreen. It's funny, last year Windows 7 was awesome but OEM bloat and general designs were sub-standard. This year the trend seems to be reversing...

    Why can't we edit comments anymore? :(

    And please don't bring the new comments section to these articles! ;)

    p.s. Forgot to mention, was a good insight to what's going on behind the scenes at Intel. The only other person except you (Chris) that has writes stuff like this is Anand Shimpi. Real World Tech's David Kanter seems to know a lot about stuff like this too. Of course i'm sure i'm missing a lot of people though!

    p.p.s. I wish Intel and AMD would team up to crack mobile. Some sort of agreement that lets them split profits/market share, say 55-45 or something. Not happening, i know :P
  • ojas
    duckwithnukesWho is this guy? Why the rant? Very poor article.

    Yeah not the assumption i'd make either (shipping the stuff separately), but you can't really say "who is this guy" on this article. :P

    Unless you're new, in which case you're partially forgiven. Partially.
  • vigliottec
    this article has some misinformation as well. this tablet does not cost $599.99. i bought it from Microcenter for $379.99
  • bystander
    The only thing I disagree with in the evaluation of Windows 8, is the complaint about going to the desktop and Metro. The desktop is legacy support. It isn't really part of the Windows 8 experience, other than letting you use legacy software. It is not meant to be used in the future, with future apps. It should be looked at as a big plus, as it lets you use software that most new systems wouldn't.
  • ddpruitt
    Sorry but this article is anything but. To quote XKCD "While the author's wildly swerving train of thought did at one point flirt with coherence, this brief encounter was more likely a chance event". Here's a quick breakdown of the problems:

    1. Anything that can be done on a CISC instruction set can be done on a RISC instruction set, it just takes more instructions. Intel's microcode is RISC not CISC. Why? because it's a hell of a lot easier to optimize. It's clear Chris doesn't have a clue as to what this means or why this ties into ARM vs Intel x86
    2. Intel didn't optimize their architecture for performance, they just move more of the work onto the CPU
    3. Intel worked optimizing schedulers and hardware interfaces for x86, a laudable goal but the same optimizations can easily be applied to ARM
    4. Aside from the Windows RT tablet the benchmarks are significantly different systems, not particularly useful
    5. The rant is more of a service issue than a hardware issue, important yes but has no bearing on the article other than a broken keyboard

    And most importantly
    6. The title is misleading, there is no head to head against ARM or Apple. It's optimizations Intel has made to make things work better
  • ojas
    bystanderThe only thing I disagree with in the evaluation of Windows 8, is the complaint about going to the desktop and Metro. The desktop is legacy support. It isn't really part of the Windows 8 experience, other than letting you use legacy software. It is not meant to be used in the future, with future apps. It should be looked at as a big plus, as it lets you use software that most new systems wouldn't.

    Legacy, huh?
  • bystander
    ojasLegacy, huh?

    Yes, legacy support. Windows 8 programming is meant to be done in Metro, but the desktop supports old software that doesn't work in Metro.

    Whether you prefer legacy software or not is up to you, but that doesn't change what it is.