x86 Everywhere: Intel Announces Medfield Phones - HotHardware

x86 Everywhere: Intel Announces Medfield Phones

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Intel's official slide on Medfield isn't big on details, but the company has given us permission to tell you more about the chip than what's printed above.

The GPU portion of the Z4260 is based on PowerVR's SGX540 with a target core clock of ~400MHz. That puts the chip's GPU performance in line with Texas Instruments' OMAP4460, which uses the same GPU and is clocked at 384MHz. Medfield integrates support for three displays, including 1900x1080 output via HDMI.


The chip supports dual-channel LPDDR2 667-800MHz and encodes video at 30 fps in 720p.


Penwell is in the upper-right hand corner, with the two chips from Moorestown (Lincroft and Langley) for comparison

The CPU core at the heart of Medfield is named Saltwell; it's the first new iteration of the architecture since Intel debuted Bonnell, the 45nm variant, back in 2008. At a high level, most of the core's features are unchanged. Saltwell is a single-core chip with HyperThreading. Like Bonnell, it's an in-order core capable of decoding up to two instructions per clock cycle with 56K of L1 and 512K of L2 cache.

There were, however, a few low-level improvements. Previously, Atom used a 4K table for gshare branch prediction. Saltwell stores 8K worth of entries in single-threaded mode and 4K of data per thread when HyperThreading is in use. Increasing the number of entries lowers the number of mispredicts and can help prevent thread stalls.

Intel's other performance improvements to Saltwell include faster memory copy routines, "improved performance of certain microcode flows", and a reduction in instruction scheduling restrictions. All of these improvements are extremely low-level, but Atom's in-order nature makes them more important than they might be otherwise. Unlike a conventional desktop or laptop processor, Atom can't re-order code for optimum execution. Relaxing scheduling restrictions helps improve core utilization and performance per watt efficiency.


Saltwell and the Medfield SoC are designed to open this new range of products

One fact about Saltwell that caught us by surprise is the chip's operating frequency. The chip runs at the same 1.6GHz that's been the hallmark of Atom since it debuted in netbooks 3.5 years ago. Its ability to dynamically adjust its clock frequency relative to workload, however, has been significantly expanded (more on this in the Power Consumption section later on).

Can a Single-Core x86 Processor Keep Up?

Intel's decision to opt for a single-core x86 chip bucks the market's general trend towards multi-core phones, but it's a good strategy for multiple reasons. HyperThreading doesn't deliver the same performance improvement as a second core, but we've seen it improve Atom's performance by 30-50 percent in a wide range of non-smartphone tests. The benefit of being able to schedule twin threads for simultaneous execution are low level enough that Android should see similar benefits.


Atom's in-order architecture makes HT particularly useful when it comes to improving core utilization and efficiency

Intel's other ace card is Atom's inherent performance advantage relative to its ARM counterparts. Benchmarks between the two are admittedly hard to come by, but the test results that are available suggest that Atom's single-threaded performance is significantly better than that of its ARM-based counterparts.

The best way to understand Saltwell's relative performance is as a balance between clock speed, multi-threading capability, and x86's inherently higher efficiency as compared to ARM. Against 1-1.2GHz dual-cores, Medfield's higher clock speed and HT should keep it in the running. Later this year, the chip faces stiff competition with the next generation of hardware expected to emerge, but remember, Medfield's primary goal is to compete with ARM products, not blow the doors off.
 

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They are late to the game and they show up with a 32nm Atom is this a joke.

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Power consumption on the device looks excellent --fully comparable to current phones. There's no effective difference between 32nm and 28nm, particularly given that Intel's 32nm is extremely solid. This is no joke.

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Being late has nothing to do with whether they can compete. Plenty of products get introduced into the market all the time and it only depends whether they can compete and not when they are introduced. While being first is no guarantee of success either.

Nor does it matter if a company has failed before, other than stigma and getting consumers to believe in a product but that can all rapidly change. Really, company statuses go up and down all the time and just because a company is down now doesn't mean it can't become tops in very short order.

Never mind for a reality check, ARM is only coming out with 28nm products in the mid to later half of this year. The Tegra 3 for example is still a 40nm product that's even still based on Cortex A9 instead of the more capable Cortex A15. Nvidia may update to 28nm before the 3rd quarter of the year but they may decide to just wait till the Tegra 4 is ready at the end of the year or early next year.

ARM in general is still all 32bit, they're still a few years away from even sample 64bit products. Hardware fragmentation is still a serious issue. Until Windows 8 for ARM comes out in 2013, ARM still lacks a major desktop OS and even then it won't have full legacy support. While in terms of performance only the next gen 28nm chips actually rival Intel ATOM for CPU performance. Meaning that up till now there have been no overlap between ARM and Intel.

ARM's only advantage is it was designed from the start for low power usage that made it ideal for mobile and embedded devices. While Intel has from the beginning been designing all purpose processors intended to provide at least the basic performance needed to run a desktop OS. They have literally been competing from opposite sides of the performance spectrum and it's not easy for either of them to expand into the markets dominated by the other.

However, overlap is finally starting to happen and that means both stand to start making progress into the markets they each dominate right now. Meaning 2013 is the year we'll start seeing Intel make progress on mobile devices and when ARM will start being seen in what have been traditional PC products like laptops.

It's a long time coming for both but don't assume anything until we really start seeing them seriously compete.

Many of the game changers for Intel don't even kick in till they reach 22nm for example. Like the performance boosting Tri-Gate Transistors. Along with the full adoption of efficiency boosting SoC designs and other architectural changes that finally starts closing the gap between x86 power efficiency and ARM's. While similarly ARM is introducing some enhancements of their products over the next year as well.

So we'll see in 2013 to 2014 how this will play out.

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if you read the article you'll see why this is no joke at all.. this should be a very solid first step to make

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This is why I love technology :) go intel! .....well , i dont know if you guys didnt noticed but i see a iphone based design.

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If you're implying that Apple might use Medfield for a future iPhone, that's not happening. Apple has heavily invested in its own version of an ARM core, and the A6 is already well into development.. This point was raised at our meeting with Intel, and the company wasn't willing to even speculate at what point Apple might consider a switch. My personal guess is that this doesn't even become remotely likely until the chip *after* next (let's call it Future Core 2.) 

If you mean that the prototype phone looks something like an iPhone, it looks more like a generic Samsung. In this case, the important factors are its size and weight. Both of these are within standard parameters for currently shipping devices.

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It looks like x32 was on its way out. It will be for normal machines and servers soon but now our phones should be able to run 32 bit sometime soon.

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All modern ARM and x86 processors are 32-bit. There's no plan to move to 64-bit phones on anyone's roadmap and several reasons not to do so at the moment -- 64-bit code is larger than 32-bit code, and cache / memory space is still at a premium in phones.

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