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Intel has big ambitions for its low power Oak Trail Atom-based platform, which it says will trash ARM processors in Android performance.  (Source: Intel)

Sadly for Intel quite the opposite proved true in early benchmarks. ARM badly beat an Oak Trail prototype in app performance and heat.  (Source:

ASUSTek's Eee Transformer Pad, powered by NVIDIA's dual-core Tegra 2 ARM CPU proved the most powerful tablet in most benchmarks.  (Source: Android In)
The only benchmark Intel's new platform performed admirably in was Javascript performance

Intel Corp.'s (INTC) was quick to brag on dramatic process improvements that would propel its Atom chips to new levels of performance during its keynote at Computex 2011 in Taiwan.  The company says it will leverage its die shrink lead on Core brand CPUs to push yearly die shrinks for Atom over the next couple years, hitting the 14 nm node a couple years before ARM manufacturers.  And it says it will deploy its new tri-gate transistors at the Atom's 22 nm node in 2013.

I. Intel Oak Trail Gets Tested

By the looks of early testing, Intel desperately needs all the help it can get.  A dual core Z6xx series atom chip running on the company's new Oak Trail chipset was shown off in a prototype design by Taiwan's Compal Electronics.

The prototype packed two CPU cores, running at 1.5 GHz.  It also packed an Intel GMA600 GPU, which is essentially a rebranded PowerVR SGX535.

The new tablet was running Google Inc.'s (GOOG) popular Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system, the second most used tablet OS in the world behind Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS (found on the iPad and iPad 2).

In a limited set of tests,, a Dutch hardware site benchmarked [translated] the new platform and compared it to rivals currently on the market with similarly clocked dual-core CPUs.  The picture wasn't pretty for Intel.

II. Slow

In the Caffeine 3 benchmark, the Oak Trail prototype scored a dismal 1562 points, well behind the Asus Eee Transformer Pad (Tegra 2 based; 6246 points) and the Samsung 10.1v Galaxy Tab (Hummingbird Gen. 2; 7194 points).  This was significant as Caffeine measures Java performance -- the language most Android apps are written in.  As such, the benchmark provides a key indicator of how fast apps will run on the tablet -- in Intel's case "very slow".

That result was confirmed by the Linpack benchmark, which gave a result at 9.4 MFLOPs, versus 36 MFLOPS for the Tegra 2.  Similarly the Quadrant benchmark gave a score of 1978, at the very bottom of the 2,000 to 2,500 that Android tablets regularly score.  Some Android Phones even score 2,000+. 

While these numbers aren't necessarily a bad thing for all apps (some of which are less demanding), it may mean that on Intel-based Android tablets you'll have to forgo highly demanding apps like the early crop of 3D shooter titles.

The Oak Trail tablet did show some promise, posting the best score (1500 ms) in the Sunspider benchmark, a full 376 ms faster than the fastest ARM-based Android, the Asus Eee Transformer Pad.  In other words, while Intel's platform may come up short in apps, it looks like it will handle the internet pretty well.

III. Hot

Unfortunately, two critical performance measures -- Flash performance and battery life -- were not tested.

The site did evaluate Oak Trail's temperature performance, writing [translated]:

The settings menu of the x86 port also showed how hot the Intel CPU in the tablet. In this model ranged between 60 and 65 degrees [Celsius], and that was quite obvious. The tablet on the outside felt warm, much warmer than previous Honeycomb Tablets we owned had.

Unfortunately the site did not produce any quantitative numbers to back its claims.  However, if the CPU is truly reaching 140-149 °F, that's a major issue as, at that temperature, heat conduction could make holding the case very uncomfortable (particularly given the tight casing in modern ultra-slender tablets).

IV. Hope for Intel?

There's hope on both the performance and temperature front for Intel.  It's thought that a major part of the gap in app performance may be due to optimizations in Android for the ARM architecture.  If Intel pushes hard enough, it may be able to get similar optimizations for x86 worked in.

The temperature is intimately tied to usage and clock speed, so there's no way of necessarily escaping that during times of heavy use.  However, Intel could always solve this problem by putting a small fan in its tablets.  While that might produce a "fatter" less seemly tablet, it would at least spare the user from discomfort.

And in the long term, the die shrink in Q4 2011 to 32 nm should reduce chip temperatures.

The early numbers do indicate, though, that Oak Trail and Atom-powered Android is a work in progress -- a picture that stands in sharp contrast to Intel's promise that Oak Trail would trash ARM designs in performance.  Once we get numbers on battery life we should be able to see exactly how far behind the platform is.

The Tegra 2 is a dual-core Android by American-based NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA).  The processors are overclocked to around 1.5 GHz, in typical builds.

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By dcollins on 6/3/2011 4:54:12 PM , Rating: 5
I would not read into these results too much, although they aren't encouraging. As of Android 2.2, Dalvik relies on a JIT compiler to achieve good performance when executing "java" code. The JIT in Android 3.0 almost certainly does not support x86, so this benchmark is comparing JIT compiled code versus interpreted code, which makes huge difference, especially in synthetic benchmarks like Linpack. It's not a matter of optimization; if the JIT cannot compile to x86, the code stuck in the much slower interpreter loop.

Normally a good JIT offers 2-5X the performance versus a similar quality interpreter, but the difference can be even higher in arithmetic code. Using python as an example (because I most familiar with it) pypy's JIT can perform simple math benchmarks up to 100x faster than cpython's interpreter.

The fact that Atom outperforms Tegra in Javascript performance drives this point home. V8 obviously has excellent JIT support for x86 since it was originally developed for PC's so this is the only test that compares apples to apples. For general performance, we'll just have to wait and see.

RE: Dalvik
By B3an on 6/3/2011 7:10:07 PM , Rating: 1
This is what i was thinking too. I'm positive Android 3.0's JIT does not support x86, so these benchmarks are pretty much useless.

Remember when Android 2.2 came out and in some benches it was literally 5x faster than Android 2.1? This is the kind of difference JIT makes, so in all of these benches the Atom is going to be roughly 3 - 5x slower because of no JIT support. Once it gets this support these benchmark numbers will dramatically increase.

RE: Dalvik
By psonice on 6/6/2011 6:14:33 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, what I was thinking too. The atom is significantly faster in javascript, it's likely to be significantly faster running java too with a decent dalvik port. Anyone assuming that these results mean the atom tablets are going to be slow just doesn't understand what they're looking at!

Also, consider the floating point benchmarks. Tegra 2 famously lacks Arm's NEON engine. This is the equivalent of SSE on the atom, and accelerates a lot of FPU operations massively. There's no way a tegra 2 would beat an atom at floating point unless the software was seriously crippled or unfinished!

I think intel has a few real or potential problems though:

- heat. A hot tablet isn't going to be fun, and it suggests that the CPU is eating way too much power, and battery life will suffer. Maybe they can improve it a lot before it's released (and finished software will help plenty too), but it's not a promising start.

- The OS/dalvik software. They need the software optimising for it. If they don't put the effort into this, it's not going to be pretty, but this is totally solvable.

- the GPU. An SGX535, seriously? The iphone 3gs had this GPU, 2 years ago. The ipad GPU is 9x faster (well, yeah, that's a marketing figure, but I develop for it and it is 'many times' faster at least in pretty much all cases).

- Apps. Ok, so no problem with java apps (assuming the dalvik port is good). How about native apps, or apps that contain native code? They're not going to run (or they'll run badly under emulation). There's going to be quite a big compatibility problem - especially for games that need the speed of native code.

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