Android On Intel x86 Tablet Performance Explored


For the past few years, Intel has promised that its various low-power Atom-based processors would usher in a wave of low-cost Android and Windows mobile products that could compete with ARM-based solutions from its major competitors. And for years, we've seen no more than a trickle of hardware, often with limited availability and/or questionable pricing. Now, that's finally beginning to change. Intel's Bay Trail and Merrifield SoCs are starting to show up in attractive, full-featured, sub-$200 devices, and we've got one of them on the test bench today, the Acer Iconia Tab 8, along with a competing tablet from Dell, that we've shown you previously, the new for 2014 Venue 8.

Acer Iconia Tab 8
Specifications & Features
1.33GHz Base / 1.86GHz Turbo Quad-Core Intel Z3745
Memory and Graphics
16GB eMMC Internal Storage

Intel HD Graphics (4 EUs, Ivy Bridge-derived)
Size & Weight
215mm (H) x 130mm (W) x 8.5mm (D)
360g (0.79 lbs)

8.0-inch IPS FHD LCD (1920 x 1200)
Android 4.4.4 (KitKat)
Azurewave 802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
Bluetooth 4.0
micro-USB 2.0

3.5mm Headphone / Microphone Combo Jack
Yes, Rear-Facing MP rating not given
2.0 Megapixel Front-Facing Camera
4600 mAh
$199.99 - Find It At

The Acer Iconia Tab 8 we're featuring in this article, is built around Bay Trail, which means it uses Intel's latest 22nm Atom CPU combined with Intel's own integrated GPU.

Merrifield Or Bay Trail?

One of the most interesting questions for would-be x86 buyers in the Android tablet space is whether to go with Merrifield or Bay Trail-based device. Here's how the two break down: Merrifield (tested here in our Dell Venue 8 3840) is a dual-core chip without Hyper-Threading, but running with a burst frequency of 2.13GHz. Intel continues to advertise its mobile chips by their maximum burst frequencies, not their base clocks.

That's the Dell Venue 8 3480 on bottom, the Acer Iconia Tab 8 on top.Click to enlarge.

The Acer Iconia Tab 8 uses Intel's Z3745 Bay Trail Atom (quad-core, 1.86GHz maximum speed, 1.33GHz base clock) and a graphics engine derived from Ivy Bridge. That GPU is the other significant difference between the two SoCs -- with Bay Trail, Intel is still employing their own graphics solution, while Merrifield pairs a dual-core SoC with a PowerVR G6400. This is the critical difference that distinguishes the two cores, as we'll soon see.

Two tablets enter. One tablet leaves. Click to enlarge

Hardware Look and Feel

Before we talk about benchmarks, we want to discuss the experience of using an all-Intel solution in what has, to date, been an ARM, Qualcomm and PowerVR-dominated segment. At first glance (or feel) there's nothing about the Acer Iconia Tab 8 that advertises it as an x86-based Android product. There's an Intel Inside sticker on the back, but no associated boot-up branding or signature Intel jingle. There's no extra size or weight associated with the system being x86, and the tablet boots up fairly quickly to the Android Home screen. Jump through the typical setup bells and whistles and you're home free in short order.

Acer has sensibly positioned all of the power and access ports either on the top of the tablet (in Portrait mode) or on the left-hand side (in Landscape). Similarly, the volume rocker and on-off button are at the top of the device when you're holding it in Landscape mode. The setup works quite well; the tablet is easy to use when plugged in or with one hand (at least for reading).

The only physical downside to the Iconia 8 is that the device's single speaker has incredibly low volume, even by the standards of mobile devices. Still, from an external perspective, there's no extra weight or odd styling to betray this as an "Android on x86 tablet."  Not that we should be suspect of this, per se, but in reality the Iconia Tab 8 is as sleek and visually appealing as any 8-inch Android device we've seen to date.

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