|Introduction and Samsung's ATIV|
|When you consider Intel's competitive position in the desktop and notebook PC markets, one simple word comes to mind, "dominance." Conversely, when it comes to tablets and smartphones, the landscape couldn't be more different. Intel's chief competitor on the desktop and PC side of the equation is AMD and it's obvious Intel is killing it there.
Intel's nemesis in tablets and smartphones? ARM, and ARM is killing it. NVIDIA, Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google, Lenovo, Toshiba are all building devices or silicon based on ARM technology and the list goes on... and on. Recently, AMD even stepped up to the plate with ARM and rumors are that Apple is looking to possibly differentiate their Mac line-up with non-X86 architectures. Talk about exciting times for big tech. Microsoft also saw the writing on the wall and hedged a bet on ARM along with their age old WinTel design effort. Interesting times indeed. But I digress...
Windows RT, also known as Windows 8 for ARM devices, launched a couple weeks ago. Today, we have the very first Intel-driven Windows 8 tablet device to hit our labs, powered by Intel's latest low power Clover Trail Atom Z2760 SoC (System on Chip). The Atom Z2760 is a new dual core chip from Intel with integrated engines for graphics, HD video encode and decode and a low power DDR2 RAM controller. Clover Trail, like Medfield for smartphones, marks Intel's latest effort to break into the exploding tablet market. With Windows 8 finally launched, does Intel's latest Atom architecture have what it takes to compete and offer consumers a full X86 compatible solution to complement existing desktop and notebook devices?
Here we'll take an early look at Clover Trail's performance. Our test vehicle is none other than Samsung's new ATIV Smart PC 500T.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is a rather large, 11.6-inch tablet with a 16:9 aspect ratio for its display (1366X768 native res). This makes it feel and look very "wide" in the hand. This is a good thing for media consumption but you may find it a little too big, depending on your personal preference. MSRP with a companion keyboard dock will by around $750 for the device, $650 for just the tablet and charger accessories.
We're going to leave a deep-dive into the Samsung tablet for our full review. Here, we'd like to explore a preliminary view of performance with the first Intel Clover Trail-powered Windows 8 Pro tablet we've gotten our hands on. Let's run down some quick specifics on Clover Trail and then get right down to business.
High Level Functional Blocks of Intel's Atom Z2760 SoC
Thermal images are of Clover Trail, Intel's 32nm SoC in active and standby states
The key take-aways here are that Clover Trail is built on Intel's 32nm process node. The Atom Z2760 SoC is a highly integrated chip with 2D/3D graphics, a dedicated HD video encode/decode engine, dedicated IP sec engine, image signal processor, an audio engine and display control logic. Considering the real estate that graphics, video and display consume on die, it's clear how important the visual experience is for the platform the chip is targeted to.
Also, recall that Intel licensed a PowerVR SGX545 graphics core in Clover Trail as they did with Medfield for smartphones, although the graphics engine is still noted as "Integrated Intel HD Graphics." The SGX545 is one of the fastest integrated graphics cores on the market currently for tablets and smartphones, though it's out-classed by the SGX544 in Apple's A6X SoC and the newest iPad.
Power consumption and the aggressive power gating on chip for Clover Trail is impressive with a 1.7 Watt total TDP (Thermal Design Power). Above, Intel shows thermal imaging of active and standby states in various blocks of Clover Trail. In short, when idle or under-utilized, blocks are completely shut down.
What's a little surprising is that Clover Trail only supports low power DDR2 system memory instead of including support for DDR3. The USB and other general-purpose I/O is driven by eMMC technology. eMMC or Embedded Multimedia Card is essentially a variant of Flash SD Card technology, which has actually superseded it. Most tablet designs (NVIDIA's Tegra 3 for example) currently employ eMMC but it would seem that the opportunity for a faster mSATA interface solution could have been considered, though time to market and other trade-offs are always at play in the semiconductor market. Regardless, how this all translates to available system bandwidth and performance is something we'll explore next.
|Initial Vital Signs and SANDRA Testing|
Below is a quick snapshot of what the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T is configured with and how it presents itself to the Windows 8 Pro operating system.
Unfortunately Windows RT doesn't offer a Windows Experience rating like Windows 8 Pro does, so we don't have data to offer for comparison. However, you can see this tablet is rated at a 3.2 on a scale of up to 9.9, which is of course a metric that also considers desktop level performance. This is obviously just a reference point more than anything.
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, File System).
SANDRA CPU and Multimedia Benchmarks
SANDRA Memory and File System Benchmarks
SANDRA reports that Integer performance for the Clover Trail Z2760 is up nicely versus the previous gen Atom D525 dual core architecture, in fact surpassing AMD's E-350 APU as well. Floating Point performance hasn't changed at all according to SANDRA. Multi-Media SSE optimized performance is about flat as well. Memory Bandwidth with Clover Trail does seem to be up slightly versus the previous gen Pineview architecture and SANDRA reports the storage subsystem in the Samsung ATIV tablet to be about on par with the average 7200RPM, 3Gbps SATA hard drive.
|Sunspider, BrowserMark and PCMark 7|
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T with Intel's Atom Z2760 and Windows 8 Pro offered the fastest SunSpider score we've seen to date, besting even Apple's powerful A6 dual-core SoC by a comfortable margin.
Unfortunately this is another benchmark where we don't have a lot of reference data for similar mobile architectures currently. The best frame of reference we can offer is that a low power Core i3 CULV processor puts up about 2100 or so in this test, though most notebook systems we've tested have had more robust disk subsystems.
Unfortunately, thus far we've been met by errors and crashing with both PCMark Vantage and 3DMark Vantage as well. Additionally, 3DMark 11 won't run on the Atom Z2760 because it's PowerVR graphics core is only DX10.1 compatible. We're hoping to dig in further here shortly, and offer you more performance data, especially as it pertains to the multimedia and graphics performance of Clover Trail.
However, we do have a look at HD video playback for you next...
|HD Video Playback Testing and The Wrap-Up|
|To test Clover Trail's video decode performance we chose two rather strenuous 1080p HD video file formats to play back on the Windows 8 desktop. Our first video file of choice was a 1080p AVCHD video file shot from a Canon Vixia HD camcorder.
1080p AVCHD Video Playback CPU Utilization - Intel Atom Z2760
Here we can see that Clover Trail is barely breaking a sweat, playing back HD video with only about 25% CPU utilization. Next we chose to fire up a 1080p HD Youtube video streamed over our WiFi network.
1080p Youtube Video Playback CPU Utilization - Clover Trail Atom Z2760
In this test configuration we're looking at CPU utilization on the Atom Z2760 SoC as it not only decodes 1080p HD Flash video from Youtube but also as the 802.11n WiFi network adapter in the tablet is being exercised as well. Here we see a bit more workload on the system with about 50% of the CPU resources consumed. Under this condition the Samsung ATIV was still able to easily switch back and forth between the Windows 8 desktop and the Metro start screen, as well as open other applications like weather and Bing news, without skipping a beat. As an aside, the ASUS Vivo Tab RT with its Tegra 3 chip at the helm, clocked in at 1.2GHz with the same video stream and showed ~ 60% CPU utilization.
We're just getting warmed up with testing Intel's new Clover Trail Atom Z2760 SoC, Windows 8 and the new Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T tablet. Over the next few days we'll be delving into our full review and showcase of the Samsung product and will look further into other performance characteristics of Intel's new tablet platform. For now, Clover Trail is impressive enough, in terms of general use performance, easily on par with what we've seen from Window RT devices driven by NVIDIA's Tegra 3 SoC. And that performance comes with the obvious added benefit of full X86 compatibility as well.
Under certain test conditions, Clover Trail looks powerful but we need to spend a bit more time looking at graphics performance. The chip's on-board PoweVR SGX 545 GPU offers an interesting data point versus integrated graphics cores in both ARM-based architectures, as well as ultra low power integrated CPU/APU architectures. Where Clover Trail continues to feel a little pokey is with respect to memory bandwidth, though in practice and during regular use, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T was snappy, responsive and capable of anything you'd throw at it for a tablet usage model. Stay tuned as we hope to offer more insight into Clover Trail performance and take a look at battery life, in our full review, very soon.