If The Gloves Weren't Off Before, They Are Now...
Intel employs more than 100,000 people. A great many companies are larger. But still, you don’t change the direction of an organization doing more than $50 billion in revenue a year quickly, or without a specific endgame. And yet, Intel is intent on recalibrating its focus. In fact, a pre-IDF note I received was even more explicit than that.
Resetting the course of the company with a clear emphasis on mobile computing leadership. Wow. Take that Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Samsung. But while Intel’s home court rallying cry comes as a bit of a surprise, its playbook through the end of next year certainly isn’t.
Back in June, we spent time at Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara to get briefed on the architecture that’d power its next generation of low-power desktop, notebook, tablet, appliance, smartphone, and server CPUs. The resulting story, Intel Silvermont Architecture: Does This Atom Change It All?, gave us a look at a design that promised either significantly more performance per watt or great power savings at a given performance level. We were naturally eager to get our hands on an example of Silvermont in action. More on that shortly.
Bay Trail, Powered By Silvermont, In Your Next Tablet?
Last week, Intel introduced the family of SoCs previously referred to as Bay Trail, which address the tablet, notebook, and desktop markets. Although you’re going to see Bay Trail-based processors branded as Atom, Celeron, and Pentium, they all employ the Silvermont core design, albeit within a range of power and performance levels.
In keeping with its mobile focus for IDF, though, Intel emphasized the tablet-specific quad-core Atom Z3700 and dual-core Atom Z3600 line-ups. They succeed the dual-core, quad-threaded Atom Z2760, which saw some play in a number of tablets running Windows 8. None of those tablets really caught on, though. Why not? Well...
...to begin, they were expensive. Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC 500T with 64 GB of storage sold for $750 with its optional keyboard. They weren’t very fast, either. Finally, we stumbled on some pretty severe quality issues with the Samsung and Acer units—two of the highest-profile Atom-based tablets. Though they were able to compete against Nvidia’s Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s S4 Pro in measures of efficiency, after a while we found ourselves picking those Atom-based platforms up and setting them right back down.
And that’s actually part of what makes Bay Trail so exciting. Intel is expanding its horizons, maintaining its Windows focus, but branching out to enable x86 on Android (a process that began earlier this year with Clover Trail+). That should help widen Atom’s price band. As we know, Intel also makes some pretty broad claims about Bay Trail’s performance, which we'll put to the test shortly. We’re pretty certain that its improvements will translate to better responsiveness. Quality issues need to be ironed out by the manufacturers. But Intel has its engineers busy working with partners to improve their designs, and we can only hope many lessons were learned from Clover Trail.
Intel makes clear where you’ll find Bay Trail-based SoCs and Ivy Bridge/Haswell-based processors by charting price over a range between maximum mobility and peak performance. All the way to the left, tablets with Atom inside should stretch from $200 to about $550, while Core-based devices top out in the $850 range. Divisions are also made in the notebook space. Atom will not go into Ultrabooks-branded platforms, but is expected to show up in detachable and convertible systems, otherwise referred to as two-in-ones.