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Intel’s Atom “Merrifield” to Ship Early 2014. Can It Compete with ARM Chips?

June 4, 2013 - Written By Lucian Armasu

Intel recently announced the overhauled Atom design, based on the Silvermont platform, and it announced 2 chips that will be made on top of it: Bay Trail for tablets, which might arrive by the end of the year in some tablets, and Merrifield, a slower performance (and presumably more efficient) chip for smartphones that will arrive in the first half of 2014 in some phones.

Both of these chips will made at 22nm, and it is assumed that this will offer Intel some kind of competitive advantage over ARM. But I believe we’ll see 20nm ARM chips from Qualcomm and Samsung in the first half of 2014, too. Qualcomm hasn’t announced yet what it plans to launch for 2014. The only thing we know about its 2014 chips is the leaked Adreno 420 GPU, but that’s about it. But presumably they will ship a Krait 500 chip, too. They might want to wait until the S800 starts shipping this year before announcing the new one.

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I expect this chip to be made at 20nm, because Qualcomm was also the first mover to 28nm with the S4 last year, and I believe they will be the first to 20nm next year, too, so they can take advantage of the power consumption benefits and increase the performance of the chip.

Samsung could also do the same thing with their next Exynos 6 Octa, and make the Cortex A15 cores at a higher clock speed of say 2 Ghz (compared to 1.6 Ghz in Galaxy S4 right now). They were also among the first to 28/32nm, so they should be among the first to 20/22nm, too.

If Nvidia doesn’t screw up again with Tegra 5, and releases Tegra 5 at 20/22nm, too, instead of being one year behind in process technology, and keep using 28nm, then Tegra 5 could be a formidable competitor, too, next year. After all, it’s going to be probably the only chip to bring PC-like gaming graphics to market in 2014, thanks to Kepler-based GPU with the full OpenGL 4.3 API support.

So Intel is a little unlucky here, because while they’ve moved to 22nm for their desktop and notebook chips last year, they are only able to move to 22nm with Atom for smartphones, almost 2 years later, which just about falls in line with the time ARM chips makers were supposed to release their 20/22 nm chips, too.

To make things worse, ARM is claiming that Cortex A15 can still beat Silvermont chips, even at lower clock speed than them, which I could believe, considering Cortex A15 consistently beat the old Atom by 60%-70% in benchmarks, and then new Atom is supposed to be only about 50% faster than the (latest) old Atom (don’t mind the “3x faster” claim from Intel, that’s just comparing the higher clock speed quad core Silvermont to the single core lower clock speed Atom from 2008).

Competition is good in any market, but Intel will still have to prove themselves in the market and to interested OEM’s, that their chips are worth paying twice as much (usually) than any other high-end ARM chip.

Via Engadget