MWC 2014: Intel Atom Moorefield and Merrifield officially unveiled

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 01:00 AM |
Tagged: z3480, PowerVR, MWC 14, MWC, moorefield, merrifield, Intel, atom

Intel also announced an LTE-Advanced modem, the XMM 7260 at Mobile World Congress today.

Last May Intel shared with us details of its new Silvermont architecture, a complete revamp of the Atom brand with an out-of-order design and vastly improved performance per watt.  In September we had our first real-hands on with a processor built around Silvermont, code named Bay Trail.  The Atom Z37xx and Z36xx products were released and quickly found their way into products like the ASUS T100 convertible notebook.  In fact, both the Bay Trail processor and the ASUS T100 took home honors in our end-of-year hardware recognitions.  

Today at Mobile World Congress 2014, Intel is officially announcing the Atom Z35xx and Z34xx processors based on the same Silvermont architecture, code named Moorefield and Merrifield respectively.  These new processors share the same power efficiency of Bay Trail and excellent performance but have a few changes to showcase.

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Though there are many SKUs yet to be revealed for Merrifield and Moorefield, this comparison table gives you a quick idea of how the new Atom Z3480 compares to the previous generation, Atom Z2580 and Clover Trail+.  

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The Atom Z3480 is a dual core (single module) processor with a clock speed as high as 2.13 GHz.  And even though it doesn't have HyperThreading support, the new architecture is definitely faster than the previous product.  The cellular radio listed on this table is a separate chip, not integrated into the SoC - at least not yet.  PowerVR G6400 quad core/cluster graphics should present performance somewhere near that of the iPhone 5s with support for OpenCL and RenderScript acceleration.  Intel claims that this PowerVR architecture will give Merrifield a 2x performance advantages over the graphics system in Clover Trail+.  A new image processor allows for 1080p60 video capture (vs 30 FPS before) and support Android 4.4.2 is ready.  

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Most interestingly, the Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs do not use Intel's HD graphics technology and instead return to the world of Imagination Technology and the PowerVR IP.  Specifically, the Merrifield chip, the smaller of the two new offerings from Intel, is using the PowerVR G6400 GPU; the same base technology that powers the A7 SoC from Apple in the iPhone 5s.  

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A comparison between the Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs reveals the differences between what will likely be targeted smartphone and tablet processors.  The Moorefield part uses a pair of modules with a total of four cores, double that of Merrifield, and also includes a slightly higher performance PowerVR GPU option, the G6430.  

Intel has provided some performance results of the new Atom Z3480 using a reference phone, though of course, with all vendor provided benchmarks, take them as an estimate until some third parties get a hold of this hardware for independent testing.  

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Looking at GFXBench 2.7, Intel estimates that Merrifield will run faster than the Apple A7 in the iPhone 5s and just slightly behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 found in the Samsung Galaxy S4.  Moorefield, the SoC that adds slightly to GPU performance and doubles the CPU core count, would improve performance to best the Qualcomm result.

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WebXPRT is a web application benchmark and with it Intel's Atom Z3480 has the edge over both the Apple A7 and the Qualcomm S800.  Intel also states that they can meet these performance claims while also offering better battery life than the Snapdragon S800 as well - interestingly the Apple A7 was left out of those metrics.

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Finally, Intel did dive into the potential performance improvements that support for 64-bit technology will offer when Android finally implements support.  While Kitkat can run a 64-bit kernel, the user space is not yet supported so benchmarking is a very complicated and limited process.  Intel was able to find instances of 16-34% performance improvements from the move to 64-bit on Merrifield.  We are still some time from 64-bit Android OS versions but Intel claims they will have full support ready when Google makes the transistion.

Both of these SoCs should be showing up in handsets and tablets by Q2.  Intel did have design wins for Clover Trail+ in a couple of larger smartphones but the company has a lot more to prove to really make Silvermont a force in the mobile market.