Intel's 22nm Atom: Silvermont, Bay Trail Debut

Article Index

Competiton, Conclusion

Against Kabini

The big question, of course, is whether AMD's upcoming Temash / Kabini will be able to compete with this new Atom. Obviously we aren't going to come down definitively on one side or the other until shipping hardware is in hand, but here's what we expect.

AMD's Kabini is supposedly shipping for revenue this quarter, whereas these new Atom's aren't expected until the end of the year. Graphics performance will likely favor Kabini thanks to the chip's GCN heritage. Intel is claiming 2x single-threaded CPU performance, while AMD is predicting a 6-9% increase for Kabini, clock-for-clock. It's important to remember, however, that historically Atom's single-thread performance without Hyper-Threading support was very low. 2x single-thread performance will put the chip in Kabini's ballpark. AMD is hinting at a 2.13x comparison over dual-core Brazos, while Intel says 2.8x higher than dual-core Atom. Since Brazos was faster than Atom to begin with, the implication is that Kabini and Bay Trail may hit roughly the same performance targets for the CPU cores.

At this point, we expect Kabini / Temash to compete well against Atom in higher power devices, while Atom will be capable of fitting into smaller devices, like smartphones, where Kabini / Temash draw too much power to compete.
Against The Cortex-A15

The real showdown in 2014 will be against the Cortex-A15 in tablets and high-end smartphones. By the time these new cores ship, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Nvidia will have had time to refine their initial 28nm Cortex-A15 products. As we've previously stated, the Cortex-A15, for all its performance, isn't going to smash power efficiency records in smartphones. The same design tweaks that improved performance so markedly over the Cortex-A9 are going to work against the core in mobile.

You don't need to take Intel's graphs as gospel truth to recognize that this is going to be an ugly fight for the ARM vendors. The Cortex-A15's of 2014 will still be based on 28nm technology, going up against Intel at 22nm FinFET. TSMC and Global Foundries are both planning to bring next-generation FinFET technology online more quickly, but TSMC won't ramp 20nm in volume until 2015. The company's 16nm FinFET technology isn't expected until 2016 or 2017. Company CEO Morris Chang has stated in conference calls that he expects the total volume of 16nm FinFET technology to be "very small" in 2015.

In Summary

This is the architectural overhaul that Atom has needed. It's a no-compromise approach that should deliver vastly improved performance and better battery life. And, by all accounts, it's exactly what Intel needs to take the fight to the Cortex-A15. By the time the Cortex A54 and A57 are shipping, Intel's own 14nm part (codenamed Airmont) will be on the market as well. This is the chip that's going to widen Intel's ability to compete in tablets and smartphones and the long-term impact of that on the company's business can't be understated. We should also point out that Intel will be refreshing its low-power architecture twice per process node moving forward, similar to the tick-tock cadence of desktop processors. And we've all seen how well they've executed that strategy thus far with the Core series.

It's still going to be 6-8 months before we see Bay Trail / Merrifield in shipping products, but Intel's data suggests the company is going to put up a much harder fight in the smartphone and tablet market. ARM manufacturers like Qualcomm and Nvidia will absolutely have competitive products on the market, but Intel's Merrifield and Bay Trail could easily be fighting for top SKUs rather than appearing in only a few budget products.

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