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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: Tweakers.net)

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, Tweakers.net, 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.

Notes:
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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Who is surprised?
By icanhascpu on 6/3/2011 8:36:31 PM , Rating: 2
And better yet, who cares? ATOM is underpowered as hell. WE KNOW THIS.

Most of the people that come to this website know this. We are waiting for ATOM successor that uses the new Intel transistor design. I want to see what those are going to score. I would not be surprised if it is double the highest marks those tests are seeing now for their lowest rated CPU.




RE: Who is surprised?
By fteoath64 on 6/4/2011 5:15:32 AM , Rating: 2
We are surprised at the stupidity of this team in Intel. It is clear they are NOT doing any work on the architecture but just rely on die-shrink to get its power savings.
Little do they realize that the competition is way over them on 2 fronts. It is just a waste valuable wafer which can be used for better things. One can hope but does not mean, we will get a new design.


RE: Who is surprised?
By A11 on 6/4/2011 9:37:41 AM , Rating: 2
It's not stupidity, they sure as hell know what's going on.

It's called making business decisions, some of which may be wrong in the long run but looking at Intel today you can hardly say they've failed much in that regard over the last 30 years.


RE: Who is surprised?
By Targon on 6/4/2011 5:09:49 PM , Rating: 2
Intel has made some HORRIBLE mistakes over the years, and even though it has made the best of them, you can't say that Intel is perfect.

The Pentium Pro....most people don't even remember that failure of a chip, but the design DID end up as the basis for a lot of the Intel processors over the past two decades. The Itanium....we will have to see if Intel will be able to salvage ANYTHING from that flop of a chip.

Atom....poor performance from every machine that has used it. Honestly, if AMD had anything competitive in the netbook space before now, many people wouldn't even know what an Atom processor was, because no one would have bothered using it.


RE: Who is surprised?
By SPOOFE on 6/5/2011 5:50:21 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
, if AMD had anything competitive in the netbook space before now

... Then Intel may have felt some pressure to update their product sooner rather than later. As it is, they had to wait until they felt a threat from ARM, not AMD, to actually get off their butts!

I think some AMD fans overestimate how much marketing traction you can get by emphasizing the superior graphics of a low-power, low-performance, low-price, low-margin product for cheapie devices.


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