Intel claims its new chip trounces NVIDIA's Tegra 4 and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 in GPU and CPU performance

On Wednesday at the 2013 Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Intel Corp. (INTC) at last delivered its answer to Qualcomm, Inc.'s (QCOM) Snapdragon 800 and NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) Tegra 4i.  That answer is Intel's latest Atom low-power system-on-a-chip (SoC) platform named Bay Trail, which is now officially launched and headed for holiday devices under the Z3000 branding.

I. Bay Trail in the Wild

Dapper Intel Mobile VP Herman Eul was on hand to usher in Intel's most power efficient chip to date.  Here's what we learned about it.

Bay Trail introduction

Herman Eul says Bay Trail took a lot of work.  He comments that making a platform like Bay Trail is "ultra complex" and "incredibly complicated", but that, "We take technology and make this complexity competely masked to the end user."
Bay Trail Wafer

Bay Trail wafers are in hand -- and ready to ship to customers in new tablets.

Bay Trail Wafer

Bay Trail will be the basis of Intel's most affordable (or from a different light "cheapest") offerings.  Intel plans to sell Bay Trail devices starting at $99 USD

Bay Trail -- tablet implementation

Bay Trail is the sixth major platform release in Intel's Atom brand of mobile chips, which launched in April, 2008.

Bay Trail -- chipset

Bay Trail packs a faster Intel HD GPU, a much improved image signal processing (ISP) unit for camera photos, and an 10+ hour battery life and 3 weeks of standby.  Bay Trail is also Intel's first chip to include a built-in LTE modem.

II. Silvermont, the Brains of Bay Trail

Bay Trail Silvermont

The new Silvermont Atom CPU core is at the heart of a Bay Trail chip.  Bay Trail SoCs pack up to four of these cores (previous Atom chips were dual-core at most).  The cores are Intel's first fully mobile-optimized 22 nm core.

Bay Trail -- Die Design

To go from "soup to nuts" as Mr. Eul puts it, Intel packs a lot of special components into its SoC.  The pieces of the finished SoC include the Silvermontpower management/security, a hardened protocol stack, audio, the aforementioned ISP/GPU combo, display/USB I/O, communications and connectivity, DDR I/O, the LTE modem, and more.

Mr. Eul comments:

We all know, all cores are not created equal.  That compares to our brains.  The CPU is the brain of the system.  And our brains are not all  created equally… We have an extraordinary brain.

We know the secret sauce on matchmaking. This stunning architecture and this exceptional process technology... This is our secret sauce.

Bay Trail power savings

Bay Trail uses the same "[Turbo]Burst" technology that Core series chips use to briefly overclock themselves when more perfromance is demanded.  Intel uses "tiny embedded controllers within the SoC" to tweak the performance of each CPU core and the GPU, to achieve maximum power savings.  The CPUs and GPU can be individually turned on or off, similar to what NVIDIA and Qualcomm do in their latest ARM chips.  Intel calls this philosophy HUGI (pronounced "huggy") which stands for "hurry up and get idle."

III. The Fastest Tablet Chip? Intel Claims So


Intel estimates that Bay Trail will bump graphics by a factor of 3, allowing much more detail.  During its panel discussion, Intel showed off Asphalt 8: Airborne from Gameloft, running on Bay Trail tablets.

Benchmark 3DMark
Mobile benchmark

Intel showed benchmarks (from its reference design), which suggest that Bay Trail has more power than the best NVIDIA and Qualcomm chips for both Android (the Tegra 4 and Snapdragon 800) and Windows (the Tegra 3 and Snapdragon S4).  The Android win (not pictured) was slimmer, but it was impressive to see Bay Trail beating the Snapdragon 800, though independent verification of these numbers will be needed.

Bay Trail -- video

Bay Trail's new ISP allows all sorts of cool stuff, like in-depth on-device video editing  and control of simultaneous video feeds from the front and rear cameras.

Bay Trail

Bay Trail chips will officially be branded the Z3000 series.  The first announced versions are the Z3740 and Z3770.  This chip becomes Intel's new tablet-aimed standards bearer, replacing the Clover View (core)/Clover Trail (SoC) Z2000 series platform.

IV. Multiple Architectures, Numerous Partners

Multi OS

As Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) struggles to sell customers on Windows 8, Intel is increasing its focus on Windows rivals, including the world's best selling tablet and smartphone platform, Android.  Bay Trail laptops using Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Chrome OS are also expected.
Bay Trail

Officially announced partners include Dell Inc. (DELL), Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ), Fujitsu Ltd. (TYO:6702), Sharp Corp. (TYO:6753), Toshiba Corp. (TYO:6502), Acer Inc. (TPE:2353), ASUSTek Computer, Inc. (TPE:2357), The Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992), and LG Electronics, Inc. (KSC:066570).  Notably absent was Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930).

Bay Trail OEM

Intel says OEMs are crazy for Bay Trail, already committing to an unprecedented 140 designs.

Bay Trail Multiple form factors
Intel is targeting Bay Trail at multiple form factors, ranging from budget all-in-one touch desktops and laptops to tablets and 2-in-1 tablet-cum-laptops.
Bay Trail BOM

Intel brags that the new chip delivers "reduced BOM" (bill of materials) while maintaining "Intel quality".
2 in 1

Bay Trail 'M' and 'R' edition SoCs are expected to make up much of the 60+ holiday 2-in-1 designs OEMs are promising.

Bay Trail Dell Venue

Dell's Venue tablet, introduced by Dell's tablet VP Neil Hand, will debut on Oct. 2 in New York City.  Dell is dubbing the device, which runs Microsoft's fresh Windows 8.1 "Venue".  Mr. Hand explains, "Venue means the place things happen."

Mr. Hand says that Dell intends the device to be the "center of the userverse."  Mr. Eul, dressed in the pink sweater, responded enthusiastically, "It's a wonderful system, I look forward to get my hands around it."

Bay Trail tablet -- Asustek

ASUSTek T100

ASUS's new Bay Trail tablet is dubbed the "Transformer Book T100".  It will retail for $349 USD (32 GB)/$399 USD (64 GB).  The OS onboard is Windows 8.1 and there's a free install of Microsoft's Office Home & Student 2013 productivity suite.  

In tablet mode it weighs 0.544 kg, in laptop mode it weighs 1.08 kg.  It uses the Z3740 to get 11+ hours of battery life.  An exact shipping date for the device has not been announced, but it should start shipping not long after Windows 8.1's public release in late September.

ASUS CEO Jerry Shen brags, "It is wonderful for mobile gaming.... It is a very protective device… It comes with Intel hardened security."

Bay Trail smartphon

Looking ahead Intel plans in late 2013 to launch Merrifield, the smartphone SoC companion to Bay Trail.  It plans to follow this in 2014 with an updated mobile SoC featuring the 7260 LTE die, which brings carrier aggregation.  Finally, in 2014, its Core and Atom brands will be manufactured on the same node for the first time, with the release of the 14 nm Core brand codenamed Broadwell (the fifth generation Core series processors) and the Atom brand codenamed Airmont (likely to be branded the Z4000 series).

Intel thus far has struggled in the tablet market.

Bay Trai features aggressive performance and on Android (the biggest tablet market) compatibility isn't much of a concern, due to the portability of pure Java apps.  For the minority of apps that use native code, Intel is releasing tools in hopes that developers will recompile and reoptimize their apps for its device.

The new chips certainly seem to have what it takes to succeed in the mobile market.  The only question is whether OEMs will produce the kinds of Android and Windows 8.1 mobile devices that will compel consumers to buy them.

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