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-Performance Dual-Core Processor – The Intel Atom processor Z2760 is a dual-core, four-thread, up to 1.80 GHz processor featuring Intel® Burst Technology and Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology.
- Intel® Burst Technology – Enables the processor to dynamically burst to higher performance, making it possible to provide on-demand, higher performance in small device form factors.
- Intel Hyper-Threading Technology – Intel Hyper-Threading Technology provides performance and support for multi-threaded applications, helping to deliver increased performance and system responsiveness in today's multitasking environments by enabling the processor to execute two instruction threads in parallel.
- System-on-Chip (SoC) Process Technology – The Intel Atom Processor Z2760 uses 32nm process technology with second-generation high-k metal gate transistors.
- Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator – Integrated graphics with up to 533 MHz graphics core frequency and hardware acceleration support for 1080p video encode and decode.
- Internal/External Display – Support for one internal MIPI-DSI or LVDS display in additional to one external HDMI* 1.3 display.
- Integrated Memory Controller and LPDDR2 Support – An integrated 32-bit dual-channel memory controller offers fast memory read/write performance through efficient pre-fetching algorithms, low latency and high memory bandwidth. The Intel Atom Processor Z2760 includes support for LPDDR2, 800 MT/s data rates, up to 2 GB.
- Storage – Embedded Multimedia Card 4.41 (eMMC 4.41).
- Power Management – Uses low power idle standby states (S0ix) to support Microsoft* Connected Standby.
- Camera and Image Signal Processor (ISP) – Integrated ISP with support for a primary HD camera (up to 8MP) and secondary camera (up to 2.1MP).
- Security – Secure Boot, with firmware-based Intel Platform Trust Technology (fTPM).
- I/Os – GPIOs, USB 2.0, I2C, UART, SPI, SDIO 2.0, MIPI* DSI and MIPI* CSI.
- Compact Co-PoP Package – A compact 14mm x 14mm design with support for LPDDR2 customer-owned package on package.
- Platform Sensors – Support for GPS, accelerometer / compass combination, hardware sensor hub, ALS, SARS, and proximity and thermal sensors.
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
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.