Because of its higher power draw, Intel has only been able to put single core Atom processors in Android smartphones so far. And in the time it took them to do that, ARM processors have already surpassed it in CPU performance, and are several generations ahead in GPU performance. And that’s just GPU’s in Android devices. Apple’s devices are usually even more ahead in GPU performance, at least with their tablets, where they use double the GPU performance that the iPhone has. Nexus 4 actually has about the exact same GPU performance as the iPhone 5, and so does the Nexus 10 (of course real world performance gets impacted by the resolution the games are running at, though).
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So Intel is now planning an announcement of the Clover Trail+ chip, which sounds like they just needed a filler chip for the 1st half of 2013, so they don’t look like they aren’t even putting up a fight in the mobile market against ARM chip makers. But let’s look at what Clover Trail+ can do here. From the latest benchmarks it seems they may have caught up with ARM chips in power consumption, but unfortunately for Intel, by the time they did that, ARM chips have become much more powerful.
We’ve seen several benchmarks before putting Atom significantly under Cortex A15 in performance, at the same clock speed, with Cortex A15 being even 65% faster. That difference is huge. It’s like 3-4 years of performance improvements for Intel’s own chips, if you think about it. IVB was only like 5-10% faster than Sandy Bridge, and Haswell will only be 10-15% faster than IVB. And Cortex A15 is 65% faster than Atom. That will take them a while to catch-up.
And that’s just per core performance. But we’re going to see quad core Cortex A15 chips in devices very soon, either from Nvidia or Samsung, while Qualcomm will do their own thing with Krait, raising the clock speed to 2.3 Ghz by the end of the year for their quad core chips. And only thing Intel has to show for this year is a dual core Atom, that can’t match these chips.
Still Slow GPU Performance
Then there’s the GPU performance, where things get even worse. They’re going to use a PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU, which they call “dual-graphics”. I’m not sure why they are even saying that, as different GPU makers count their GPU cores differently. Nvidia has 72 cores in Tegra 4, Samsung will have 4 or 8 GPU cores in Exynos 5 Octa, Qualcomm I believe has 4 in Adreno 320, Vivante has 16 cores, and so on. The GPU Intel is using is also pretty obsolete technology wise, and it doesn’t even support OpenGL ES 3.0, which I think every single high-end device should this year. Granted Tegra 4 won’t either, but considering it’s a much faster GPU, that may be forgiven for now.
But Intel’s GPU is both old and slower than what will be available this year. Even Adreno 320 and Mali T604 from last year can beat it. It’s only 2x better than Medfield, which was already way behind Tegra 3 and Adreno 225 this year. Tegra 4’s GPU is going to be at least 4x faster than Tegra 3’s GPU. How are they going to compete with that? The answer is they can’t.
Always Two Steps Behind
So it seems Intel is once again left in the dust in the mobile market. With all their might and money, they can’t put something out there that is competitive in all 3 areas that matter for both users and manufacturers: performance, power consumption, and price. They might’ve figured one of them (power consumption), but they are still left behind with the other two, which is ironically not a much different situation than before, when they had the higher performance with Atom, compared to ARM chips then, but didn’t have the price and power consumption levels that were needed.
I don’t see Intel becoming competitive in all 3 areas even next year, even if they manage to launch a 14nm Atom chip (which shouldn’t happen until the end of 2014 anyway). But they won’t be able to launch a (consumer) 64-bit chip next year – not until 2015 – while all ARM chips next year will be 64-bit. So Intel won’t have everything together at least until 2015. The question is, will the market still be waiting for Intel to get their act together by then? I don’t think it will be. Intel should’ve tried to adopt the ARM architecture when they had the chance, because it seems obvious Atom is not making them very competitive in the mobile market.