In its morning Keynote at IDF 2013, Intel has officially launched its Bay Trail system-on chip (SoC) that has been designed to compete with chips from Qualcomm or NVIDIA in mobile devices. A Bay Trail system can use up to four CPU cores and it will integrate Intel’s own graphics processor, which is a derivative of Intel’s HD graphics launched some time ago on the PC. Previously, Intel had licensed IP from Imagination technologies, which provides graphics core for Apple and many other mobile chip vendors.
Bay Trail is extremely important for Intel’s mobility business and at the moment the products built on this architecture are the Atom Z3700 Series and Z3600 Series. It can also be used in laptops and notebook, but will appear as “Pentium” (mostly quad-core) or “Celeron” (mostly dual-core) and if you had not noticed, Bay Trail uses the Intel Silvermont CPU core design.
The maximum frequencies of Bay Trail ranges from 1.8GHz to 2.4GHz, and the designs either use a 64-bit or a 128-bit bus, connected to either LPDDR3 or DDR3L-RS memory modules. It’s not really impressive, but as they would say in mobile, “bandwidth is power” so it’s not really out of the ordinary either. The choice between LPDDR3 and DDR3L gives device makers the option to use less expensive memory, at the expensive of power-efficiency. There must be something for everyone.
Since Intel is using its own Intel HD Graphics cores, Bay Trail is compatible with DirectX 11 on Windows, and Android supports up to OpenGL ES 3.0, which is closer to the latest version of DirectX 9. The graphics controller supports up to 2500×1600, which is pretty good, but not quite the highest resolution that one can get on a tablet these days. In any case, it’s definitely good enough at the moment.
The more interesting part of the graphics processor is that it embeds QuickSync, a little MP4 video CODEC (encode/decode) that allows users to compress videos very quickly and in a very power-efficient way. The only caveat is to find applications that will support QuickSync. There are some, but the last time I checked, this wasn’t a walk in the park.
In term of performances, Bay Trail is close to AMD’s A4 APU which you can find in many entry-level or mid-range laptops priced between $400 and $700. This is therefore a good performer in the tablet space. Obviously, it won’t really compete with a full-on PC laptop in “absolute performance”, but if we look at “performance-per-watt”, Bay Trail will do very well, and that’s the whole point.
From a PC perspective, this is not really “gaming” computer, but it is fast enough to play PC games, and from an Android perspective, the performance is very decent, but clearly not the absolute best. In most graphics benchmarks, Bay Trail will score around 10% to 30% behind something like Tegra 4, which is roughly similar to a Snapdragon 800 and this is not bad at all in the grand scheme of things. Intel has come a long way in terms of mobile graphics performance and this is getting really interesting.
On Android, Intel’s Bay Trail CPU performance is going to be really good, if not excellent. In the past, Intel had already demonstrated that its mobile CPUs can be extremely fast relative to the competition and this is the case once again. We can’t wait to benchmark actual products using this hardware platform.
This is a big step for Intel, and it is now undeniable that the Intel Architecture has reached a point where they are truly a mobile player. We’ve seen it coming, but it took a bit longer to come than I would have expected.
Finally, Intel will have to gather design-wins with device manufacturers, and while an iPad win is probably out of the question, the Windows 8 eco-system will end-up providing a great way to use this newfound reach in low power goodness. From there, Intel expands with Android and in the longer term, when its 4G LTE solutions are ready, qualified and integrated, Intel will be able to compete against Qualcomm. This will take time, but Intel’s mobility efforts are accelerating and paying off.