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Early reports of Medfield being a "battery guzzler" appear to be inaccurate

Intel Corp. (INTC) isn't pushing its Intel Atom (Medfield sub-family) powered smartphones as hard in 2012 as some expected.  The hot question on the minds of many is whether Intel's decision to wait until 2013 for the "big push" was merely strategic or due to some underlying battery life issues.  Those questions were further stoked by early reports from sites whose benchmarks on early Medfield samples showed the processor to be powerful, but battery hungry.

I. Medfield's Battery Life Pleasantly Surprises 

AnandTech has just completed a thorough benchmarking of one of the early Intel smartphones -- the just-launched LAVA Xolo X900, and the result indicate that early battery life concerns were unwarranted.

For those scratching their heads in puzzlement, LAVA Mobile Phones is a small Indian smartphone maker, which is quickly rising in sales thanks to strong regional sales in southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.  The Xolo X900 is one of the first phones to pack an Intel x86 smartphone chip.  The phone currently comes loaded with Gingerbread, but reportedly will be upgradeable to Google Inc.'s (GOOG) latest Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" distribution.

Lava Xolo X900
The Lava Xolo X900 [Image Source: Anandtech]

Performance-wise, the battery is an immediate point of interest.  AnandTech's Brian Klug comments:

The x86 power myth is finally busted. While the X900 doesn't lead in battery life, it's competitive with the Galaxy S 2 and Galaxy Nexus. In terms of power efficiency, the phone is distinctly middle of the road - competitive with many of the OMAP 4 based devices on the market today. If you've been expecting the first x86 smartphone to end up at the bottom of every battery life chart, you'll be sorely disappointed. 

Indeed, despite having a petite 5.4 watt-hour internal battery (6 watt-hours is becoming standard for Android flagship phones), the device settles squarely in the middle of the pack, battery-life wise, actually besting some Androids with bigger batteries, such as the 6.66 watt-hour Droid RAZR.

Of course, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) demonstrate that operating system design still trumps battery size or CPU design, posting more than double the battery-life while web-browsing of the Intel Android (to Apple's credit, it astoundingly beats the Droid RAZR MAXX whose 12.54 watt-hour battery is almost two-and-a-half times as big as Apple's 5.291 watt-hour battery).

II. CPU is Competent, but Out-Performed by the Hottest ARM Chips

When it comes to Androids, part of Intel's decent performance may have come by scaling back the core-architecture.  The Z2460 Medfield in the Xolo X900 is clocked at 1.6 GHz, but it is outperformed in most tests by 1.5 GHz MSM8260A, the Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 4 found in the HTC One S, the sister phone of HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) HTC One X.  The Tegra 3 from NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) -- found in the U.S. version of the One X also squeaks by the Atom in many tests.

Intel's biggest win CPU-wise comes in the Sunspider Javascript benchmark, so if you do a lot of script-heavy web work or gaming Intel's chip could be good news for you.

GPU-wise there's few surprises as the Intel chip contains a licensed PowerVR SGX540 intellectual property core from Imagination Technologies plc. (LON:IMG), the same GPU found in many Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) smartphones (albeit with a higher 400 MHz clock).

III. Outlook

Intel's 2013 mobile efforts will be highlighted by a 2013 die-shrink to 22 nm, the feature size it's currently building personal computer CPUs on.  Given that Intel has matched its ARM competitors in battery life and posted decent, but uninspired computing performance this generation, it's very possible that the die shrink will push it ahead of its nemesis ARM Holdings plc's (LON:ARM) chipmaking alliance.  Of course ARM Holdings has a little something called ARM Cortex-A15 lurking in store for Intel in 2013, so it's anyone's guess who might come out on top.

China's ZTE Corp. (SHE:000063) and the Hong Kong-based Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992) are also making x86 Intel-droids, which may make it to the U.S. shores sometime in late 2012.

Source: Anandtech

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Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 3:36:32 PM , Rating: 2
Intel is still just a bit late to the party with this. Comparable battery life to previous generation ARM chips is admirable, but the newest generation offers better performance than both the aforementioned ARM chips and Medfield while offering better battery life than both (inferred from the advantage vs older ARM phones). So, basically, Intel isn't going to be able to compete in the high-end smartphone space with this chip.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By someguy123 on 4/25/2012 4:23:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm surprised at the performance on the A15. I seem to recall a benchmark showing the atom being slightly above the A15, but I guess this isn't true in raw output, or maybe they've made changes on the atom to get the draw down. Whatever the case, the A15 is pretty beefy.

Intel won't be able to compete in performance, but they do have the advantage of x86 support. Would be interesting to see how the draw comes down, if at all, once they get finfet on their atoms.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 4:40:36 PM , Rating: 3
x86 support will be important for Windows 8 tablets, but not so much for the cell phone space, I think.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By vignyan on 4/25/2012 9:04:31 PM , Rating: 2
The review is based on Gingerbread. You might have read the review with ICS. :)

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By B3an on 4/25/2012 11:07:07 PM , Rating: 2
Was it this you see?

Because thats A9, not A15. I've never seen anything where Medfield is faster than A15 apart from in one specific JavaScript benchmark (Sunspider).

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By nafhan on 4/26/2012 10:03:14 AM , Rating: 2
I seem to recall a benchmark showing the atom being slightly above the A15
Two key things here:
1) "a benchmark" still exists. The Anandtech review even has one. Real world examples seem to lean more heavily towards Krait, though.
2) On a per core basis, it looks like the Atom IS beating the A15/Krait in performance. So, from what I can see, an Atom is faster than an A15. Current implementations (single Atom vs. dual A15) just make that point irrelevant.

I agree that 22nm Atom SoC's will be very interesting...

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Reclaimer77 on 4/25/2012 4:57:14 PM , Rating: 1
You gave the same song and dance about Ivy Bridge, Goty. I guess Intel can't do anything right and they shouldn't even try unless EVERYTHING they release is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

So, basically, Intel isn't going to be able to compete in the high-end smartphone space with this chip.

Nor was that EVER the intention with this design. How insightful of you though /sarcasm.

It should be impressive and significant enough that there's an x86 smartphone that's competitive at all. As a proof of concept by Intel, this is a landmark event.

Are you just an Intel naysayer, or this negative in general about everything?

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By wordsworm on 4/25/2012 6:29:09 PM , Rating: 3
Some folks believe you're either number one, on your way up, or you're nothing. Wasn't so long ago that most folks counted Apple as a dead company. Sometimes they're up, sometimes they're down. That's the nature of it all. RIM might be down, but it could be in five years they'll be number one. Or hell, maybe it'll be Intel ruling the roost in 10 years. All this competition is a good thing, and yet people are always whining about it.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 8:49:36 PM , Rating: 2
From the AT review:

Ultimately Intel's first smartphone is a foot in the door. It's what many said couldn't be done, and it's here now. What it isn't however is a flagship. To lead, Intel needs an updated Atom architecture, it needs to be on 22nm, and it needs a faster GPU - at a minimum. All of this needs to come in a reference design that's not just good enough, but better than the rest.

Wait, you mean I agree with the person who actually has it in their hands and has used it? *GASP*

Again, your fanboyish nature leads you to believe that every comment about Intel that isn't absolutely glowing is automatically an indictment of the company and/or product in question, when that's certainly not the case. As you'll recall, I said that, taken in a vacuum, IVB is a great product, but that it simply does not shine in comparison with its predecessor. The same sort of thing applies to Medfield, with the caveat that its competition (Krait/A15 based SoCs) is actually faster and more power efficient.

Nor was that EVER the intention with this design.

Yep, Intel wants to enter the market and be mediocre. That's exactly how they got to where they are today, right? Again, from the article:

On the one hand it's a good thing that you can't tell an Intel smartphone apart from one running an ARM based SoC, on the other hand it does nothing to actually sell the Intel experience. Intel is never taken seriously in markets where it relies on being good enough, and it moves mountains in those where it's the best. That's what Intel needs to really build credibility in the smartphone space.

Hrmm, another quote that supports my position....

Please continue amusing yourself by trying to spin my position in whatever way makes you happiest; it's tremendously entertaining to the rest of us.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Reclaimer77 on 4/25/2012 9:24:03 PM , Rating: 2
As you'll recall, I said that, taken in a vacuum, IVB is a great product, but that it simply does not shine in comparison with its predecessor.

Sandy Bridge is "tock", Ivy Bridge is "tick". If I have to keep explaining why critically judging Ivy Bridge based on a mature Sandy Bridge is looking at it from the totally wrong angle, I'm going to keep assuming you know jack about this topic.

Yep, Intel wants to enter the market and be mediocre. That's exactly how they got to where they are today, right?

You have to enter the market at some point. Pretty sure Intel knew from internal testing this wouldn't be a world beater. But given the CONTEXT of what this phone is, it's still impressive. And it's only going to get better.

And did you even look at the goddamn benchmarks? Call this "mediocre" is a slap in the face honestly. You're just ignorant.

Yeah that's REAL mediocre there. What are you smoking?

Pointing out that this isn't on par with A15 just makes you sound like a naysayer. We know it's not, thank you Captain Obvious.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 10:03:17 PM , Rating: 1
You are just comically out of touch with reality here; it really is amazingly entertaining. Medfield can't compete with products currently on the market, yet you somehow want criticize my comment that Intel can't compete at the top of the cell phone market with it. You jsut utterly ignore ALL evidence and commentary to the contrary and create your own little world where Intel is the best at EVERYTHING and has never been anything less than amazing. You probably owned a Prescott P4 and thought it was light-years ahead of the Athlon 64, didn't you?

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Spuke on 4/25/2012 10:02:16 PM , Rating: 2
I guess you haven't read the Anandtech benchmarks LOL!!! It looks solidly in the pack to me. Impressive to say the least. I was worried it couldn't compete but it does. It's all right there on Anandtech. The obviousness of this really makes you look like an idiot.

Now I have really high hopes for the Win8 tablets.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/12, Rating: 0
RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Reclaimer77 on 4/26/2012 10:18:32 AM , Rating: 3
So for this to be viable in any way, at all, it has to best quad core superphones like the HTC One X in every benchmark? It beats my phone in nearly EVERY benchmark, and last time I checked the Galaxy S2 is still a decent phone by any measure.

I'm not saying I'm going to run out and buy one or that everyone should. But you're just totally missing the relevance here. Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge any positives or the significance of x86 being efficient enough to run a smartphone.

And you can just stop with the aristocratic attitude of opinions other than yours as being "lawl too much entertainment hahaah". Grow up.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/26/2012 2:55:13 PM , Rating: 2
I still don't get what part of "high-end smartphone market" you don't understand. Congrats, Medfield can beat the SGSII in CPU benchmarks; the only problem is that the SGSII is no longer a high-end phone.

As for refusing to acknowledge any positives, that would be the case if I were to come out and say "Medfield is doomed! It will never sell! There's one whole class of phones better than it at everything, so it's pointless!" If you'll recall (all the way from that first sentence up there), that is not and has never been my stance, though you'd dearly like to make that out to be the case.

Ah, and as for the "grow up" comment, you might want to turn that right back on yourself there kiddo. I respond respectfully to those who show respect and give rational arguments, of which you do neither. Learn how to have a respectful, intelligent discussion and things will move along just peachily.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By spread on 4/25/2012 5:17:01 PM , Rating: 4
So, basically, Intel isn't going to be able to compete in the high-end smartphone space with this chip.

Maybe but they have to start somewhere, and I'm sure they are working on next year's chip already.

This is still a landmark. A super power efficient x86 processor... in a phone. A PHONE.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By someguy123 on 4/25/2012 7:11:49 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed. x86 bloat is pretty much the reason ARM designs are more successful on portables. Getting the draw down so low while retaining legacy support and being on par with average smartphone performance is very impressive.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 8:51:03 PM , Rating: 2
You're absolutely right, but that doesn't mean everyone should rush out to buy one when there are better products on the market.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By someguy123 on 4/25/2012 11:31:37 PM , Rating: 2
If you're talking purchase rather than just advancement in tech, it's priced quite a bit lower than the A15s from HTC (which just shipped). Anand says the price for the xolo is $412 (disregarding plan deals), while the HTC one s/x are 550~600. Price is about right considering the specs so it wouldn't be a bad buy.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By geddarkstorm on 4/25/2012 8:13:12 PM , Rating: 2
The fact an x86 Atom could sit middle of the road in everything (but beating Cortex A9's almost constantly) is downright incredible. I never believed Intel could pull this off, especially not with Atom. The fact Intel has been able to enter the fray at all is stunning.

Also remember, this Atom is in-order architecture, unlike the out of order A9's and A15's. That handicaps it. Also realize that this Intel reference phone was -single core-, versus the dual and quad core competition. And still it held its own admirably, and had reasonable battery life right there in the middle of the pack.

No doubt about this, it's a game changer. Going from the impossible to right on par is a huge leap. Now a die shrink to 2x nm and Intel will be sitting a lot more pretty battery life wise, and a move to OOO and dual+ core, and it should trade blows right there at the top of the field. Question is how fast Intel can push those advancements, because it is entering the game at the top of the A9's sure, but right when they are being phased out.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 8:51:52 PM , Rating: 2
Question is how fast Intel can push those advancements, because it is entering the game at the top of the A9's sure, but right when they are being phased out.

That's really the kicker and the only think that stops Medfield from really being impressive.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Reclaimer77 on 4/25/2012 9:05:19 PM , Rating: 2
I agree.

What's doubly impressive is that the phone is handicapped by x86 to ARM virtualization and still does a pretty good job. This is not running a native Android x86 OS. That's still being worked on.

This explains, in their usual exhaustive detail, how an x86 CPU is running Android and Android apps. Pretty damn impressive stuff from Intel.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By vignyan on 4/25/2012 9:09:06 PM , Rating: 2
Not really. Only a small subset of NDK apps.

RE: Medfield vs Krait/A15
By Goty on 4/25/2012 9:20:29 PM , Rating: 2
Now, now, don't get your logic in his fairytale!

Not bad
By chµck on 4/25/2012 3:33:15 PM , Rating: 2
I think it does well considering that this is their first shot at the mobile phone market. With their R&D budget and experience, they should be able to increase performance and efficiency by leaps and bounds.
I am an AMD user btw.

RE: Not bad
By retrospooty on 4/25/2012 4:19:48 PM , Rating: 2
Yup... And wait until they do more die shrinks.

Right now the flagship CPU is just coming out on 22nm process. Medfield is still 32nm. LAter this year Intel will put it to 22nm, and they have also announced that Atom will be right up front with 14nm, rather than lagging behind Core i3,5,7 CPU's.

I am picturing a future Intel chip with some more power management improvements, and always being 1 manufacturing process ahead of the competition... Could be interesting.

RE: Not bad
By chµck on 4/25/2012 10:05:49 PM , Rating: 2
From what I've skimmed, they're actually having an issue with the heat generated from the 22nm process due to current leakage.

RE: Not bad
By retrospooty on 4/25/2012 10:34:46 PM , Rating: 2
Doubtful, these things are overclocking like crazy. If there are issues intel will fix them, it's what they do

RE: Not bad
By B3an on 4/26/2012 6:26:52 AM , Rating: 2
I think it does well considering that this is their first shot at the mobile phone market

...But it's not. Moorestown was Intels first shot at the mobile phone market. And it completely failed, no OEM would even use it. It was too big, too complex and too power hungry.

Intel vs. ARM in a Picture
By KartikJay on 4/25/2012 6:28:40 PM , Rating: 1
Diagrammatic representation of the Intel vs. ARM battle:

RE: Intel vs. ARM in a Picture
By Grizzlebee on 4/25/2012 6:41:23 PM , Rating: 2
Nice illustration. A picture is worth a thousand words...

RE: Intel vs. ARM in a Picture
By rocketbuddha on 4/25/2012 6:48:46 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the revenues of Samsung are from non ARM related products and hence not entirely accurate.
I agree that the ISA eco-systems are clashing though.

By Church of Dirac on 4/25/2012 3:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
Extremely aggressive power management can extend battery life very far with any CPU. Some extreme examples can be found such as running micro-controllers off a lemon for months. Apple has an unfair advantage in that they write the OS specifically for one processor, so it is super optimized. Modern x68 chips are really RISC cpus under the hood running an emulator of the CISC architecture called the microcode. A good compiler knows how to optimize the machine code to take advantage of the underlying architecture. I think larger batteries should be put in phones even if it does increase the weight and size a bit. It's better than having to charge multiple times a day.

RE: Batteries
By chµck on 4/25/2012 3:39:43 PM , Rating: 2
It irks me how android users boast 3aH batteries as a performance marker for the phone. My n8 with symbian has reached over 50 hours on it's 1.2aH battery with very mild usage, and the iphone with iOS does ok on its 1.8aH. But bigger batteries should just be standard. I replaced my 1.2aH battery with a 1.8aH battery and now I can get 2 days with normal usage.

By Cloudie on 4/25/2012 4:59:30 PM , Rating: 4
The Atom phone was running Android 2.3. Could be more competitive in some benchmarks when it gets ICS. It won't completely change the game but nevertheless will be interesting to see.

I am amazed
By vignyan on 4/25/2012 9:14:40 PM , Rating: 2
that a single-core, in-order Atom processor beats dual-core (and almost matches quad-core) out-of-order ARM A9's - although consuming equivalent power.

AT article is a bit incomplete. Battery tests do not include the numbers from HTC One (krait core based phones). I wonder how that looks like. ?:| It would have been nice to have the performance/power ratio between the top-dogs... :)

RE: I am amazed
By B3an on 4/26/2012 6:43:45 AM , Rating: 2
It's not that impressive when you know how poor Android is with multiple cores, and even more poorly the apps generally are with multi-threading. The quad-cores are easily faster - theres just hardly anything that makes use of them.

You also have to remember this Atom is clocked at 1.6GHz, which is higher than just about all ARM A9 alternatives. I'd like to see a single core Krait or A15 at the same clock speed compared, but being as these dont exists that wont happen...

Oh, S***
By Hector2 on 4/25/2012 5:33:31 PM , Rating: 3
That's exactly what the ARM manufacturers are thinking right now. ARM has been saying all along that Intel can't come up with a phone that has anything close to decent battery life as compared to ARM. Well, that's been shot down now and then some.

Now, they'll be saying that they can't be price competitive or that they're too late to the party.

All you'll hear from Intel is "tick-tock" as they keep marching down their technology roadmap.

apples to apples
By kleinma on 4/25/2012 3:46:38 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't it hard to compare things like battery life on iPhone versus droid? I mean if all you care about is battery life, then sure go with whatever last longest. But at this point I am pretty sure just about every new droid is 4G (including the Razr), and every new droid has a much larger screen than the iPhone.

All the variables that go into the phones dictate the overall battery life. You have to decide what is important to you more than just the battery...

Pretty good
By andre-bch on 4/25/2012 4:32:29 PM , Rating: 2
The battery life really surprised me. Also it performs very well in most tests and holds its own against krait, except for multi-threaded situations of course.

I suppose the 22nm dual-core Silvermont can easily compete and even win against dual-core A15 based chips in 2013. Might even offer a better battery life.

Roll your own OS?
By bupkus on 4/26/2012 9:34:06 AM , Rating: 2
Could we see an Intel based phone that can run either Android or MS Phone/Win8 whatever?
I enjoy the fact I can install linux or Win7 on my laptop.

Intel missing the point
By Visual on 4/27/2012 3:42:17 AM , Rating: 2
Who cares if this is technically x86 when it is so cut-down and incompatible with normal x86? It would have been noteworthy and a winner among geeks if it was real x86, able to run normal windows, like the UMPC craze back in the days shows, but as it is now it is completely irrelevant.
They should be working with Microsoft for an OS that can run most normal x86 apps on this platform despite the cut-out features if they want it to have any reason for existance at all.

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