Intel Announces New Merrifield, Moorefield Tablets, Designs Shipping in August

Last year, at IDF, Intel announced that it would soon make a concerted push into both the Windows and the Android tablet markets, with an aggressive contra-revenue strategy (meaning, they'd ship devices at a loss) and a huge set of marketing campaigns. On the Windows side we've seen the fruits of that push; many companies now offer Bay Trail devices in the 8-10 inch market. On the Android side of the market, however, things have been almost entirely silent -- Intel has demonstrated a few systems and made a little noise, but it hasn't done much to actually field designs in the US market.

Today, that may finally be changing. Dell, Asus, and Acer all announced various Android systems based on Intel's upcoming Merrifield and Moorefield platforms. The Dell Venue 7 and Venue 8 will both be based on Android 4.4 with the Venue 7 relying on the Intel Z3460 (dual-core Silvermont, maximum clock speed of 1.6GHz) while the Venue 8 uses the Z3480 (dual-core Silvermont with a maximum clock of 2.13GHz). Both of these chips have a graphics solution based on the PowerVR G6400 GPU with a GPU clock of 533MHz.

If you're wondering about the difference between Intel's already launched Bay Trail, Merrifield, and the upcoming Moorefield, they're fairly subtle. Bay Trail was a quad-core SoC that used Intel's own Ivy Bridge-derived graphics core, while Merrifield is a dual-core processor that uses a smaller version of a PowerVR core. Moorefield is the full quad-core variant with a 2.33GHz clock speed and a PowerVR G6430 GPU. GPU performance should be modestly better with Moorefield, both systems use a quad-cluster array, but the G6430 is optimized for higher overall performance than the G6400.

Asus MeMO Pad 8

Asus will ship its own Fonepad 8 and MeMO Pad 7 with Moorefield and Bay Trail solutions respectively while Acer has a 1900x1200 8-inch system on the way, the Acer Iconia Tab 8. This is another solution that's Bay Trail based -- in fact, based on what we're seeing, it's not clear how Moorefield and Bay Trail are practically differentiated. The Iconia Tab 8 has a Z3745 with Ivy Bridge derived graphics, while the Fonepad 8 (1280x800) is based on the lower-end Moorefield Z3560, the MeMO Pad 7 relies on Bay Trail (Z3745), and then the MeMO Pad 8 is an LTE tablet with a full HD display and a Moorefield Z3580.

Graphs like this imply that the Moorefield silicon may run into the same problems that previous Android devices have had when trying to carve out market share -- they're going to get clobbered, at least on the GPU side, by competitive products from ARM. Intel is comparing against Snapdragon 801, but with Moorefield not shipping until August (at the earliest), it's going to go head to head against the refreshed Snapdragon 805 -- which, as Anandtech showed recently, outperforms it significantly.

That doesn't mean Intel can't still win market share in these spaces, of course, but it does imply that the company will find itself constrained in doing so, stuck fighting battles against lower tier products. While Intel was able to point to multiple announcements at Computex, it only had detail on one hard ship date -- the Japanese carrier KDDI plans to bring the MeMOPad 8 to its customers beginning in August. That should be one of the first major wins for Intel's XMM7260 LTE modem, which will ship alongside its Moorefield SoC.

Hopefully this is the beginning of something better for Intel's mobile division. The company has built perfectly good hardware for years, starting with the Medfield smartphones we previewed in 2012, but continues to struggle to gain market share.