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

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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