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Intel Atom Z3000 Series Review - Bay Trail and Silvermont Arrive

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Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Intel

A Whole New Atom Family

This past spring I spent some time with Intel at its offices in Santa Clara to learn about a brand new architecture called Silvermont.  Built for and targeted at low power platforms like tablets and smartphones, Silvermont was not simply another refresh of the aging Atom processors that were all based on Pentium cores from years ago; instead Silvermont was built from the ground up for low power consumption and high efficiency to compete against the juggernaut that is ARM and its partners.  My initial preview of the Silvermont architecture had plenty of detail about the change to an out-of-order architecture, the dual-core modules that comprise it and the power optimizations included. 

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Today, during the annual Intel Developer Forum held in San Francisco, we are finally able to reveal the remaining details about the new Atom processors based on Silvermont, code named Bay Trail.  Not only do we have new information about the designs, but we were able to get our hands on some reference tablets integrating Bay Trail and the new Atom Z3000 series of SoCs to benchmark and compare to offerings from Qualcomm, NVIDIA and AMD.

 

A Whole New Atom Family

It should be surprise to anyone that the name “Intel Atom Processor” has had a stigma attached to it almost since its initial release during the netbook craze.  It was known for being slow and hastily put together though it was still a very successful product in terms of sales.  With each successive release and update, Diamondville to Pineview to Cedarview, Atom was improved but only marginally so.  Even with Medfield and Clover Trail the products were based around that legacy infrastructure and it showed.  Tablets and systems based on Clover Trail saw only moderate success and lukewarm reviews.

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With Silvermont the Atom brand gets a second chance.  Some may consider it a fifth or sixth chance, but Intel is sticking with the name.  Silvermont as an architecture is incredibly flexible and will find its way into several Intel products like Avoton, Bay Trail and Merrifield and in segments from the micro-server to smartphones to convertible tablets.  Not only that, but Intel is aware that Windows isn’t the only game out there anymore and the company will support the architecture across Linux, Android and Windows environments. 

Atom has been in tablets for some time now, starting in September of last year with Clover Trail deigns being announced during IDF.  In February we saw the initial Android-based options also filter out, again based on Clover Trail.  They were okay, but really only stop-gaps to prove that Intel was serious about the space.  The real test will be this holiday season with Bay Trail at the helm.

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While we always knew these Bay Trail platforms were going be branded as Atom we now have the full details on the numbering scheme and productization of the architecture.  The Atom Z3700 series will consist of quad-core SoCs with Intel HD graphics (the same design as the Core processor series though with fewer compute units) that will support Windows and Android operating systems.  The Atom Z3600 will be dual-core processors, still with Intel HD graphics, targeted only at the Android market.

Continue reading our review of the Intel Bay Trail processor, Atom Z3770!!

What might be surprising to some is the return of the Pentium and Celeron brands!  That’s right, for very low cost notebook and desktop systems Intel is going to insert the Silvermont architecture and Bay Trail processors into these recurring brands.  Quad-core options for notebooks and desktops will get the Pentium brand while the dual-core options will be called Celeron.  The Silvermont-based Pentium and Celeron processors are not aimed at the same markets as the Core processors and instead these will be found in very low cost solutions.

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For the Atom Z3000 series Intel has some lofty goals for both performance and mobility.  More than 8 hours of battery life and 3 weeks of standby time will definitely put Silvermont in the right area to compete against the many low-cost Windows laptops on the market, but for Android devices that usable battery life is a bit on the low side.  Intel wants flexibility for all the major platforms (Windows and Android) though the obvious starting point is going to be Windows due to the familiarity on both sides with the x86 architecture.  Bay Trail has significant performance increases on both the CPU front and the GPU side compared to Intel’s previous Clover Trail platform while also adding support for features like high-resolution and wireless displays. 

Enterprise will also find the adoption of Bay Trail easier thanks to many technologies being included that were previously only on the Core-series of Intel processors.  Security and management will function nearly exactly as IT is used to with Core notebooks and system today.  Intel is promoting 64-bit processor support as well, which is true, but it isn't quite ready yet.  While Intel says that the hardware is perfectly compatible with 64-bit technology, they are waiting for early 2014 to release models on 64-bit versions of Windows. 

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Intel already sells Core-based tablets and convertible laptops and with the release of the Haswell architecture this year they became much more useable as solo devices.  Bay Trail and the Atom Z3000 series will replace the Clover Trail systems in the pricing area under $599.  Intel is reserving the Ultrabook brand  solely for Core based systems, which I think is a good decision as it maintains some performance expectations that users can count on.  Thin form factor devices powered by Bay Trail will simply be called convertibles and ultraportables. 

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Here the product lineup for the Atom Z3000 series being announced today.  At the high end we have the Atom Z3770 and Z3770D, quad-core processors with 2MB of L2 cache and clock rates as high as 2.4 GHz with bursting.  Remember that this is different than Turbo Boost on the high end parts that sustains these higher speeds; Bay Trail uses them to maintain a smooth user experience.  The memory configuration of these two parts differs with the Z3770 sporting a dual-channel design and the Z3770D with a single channel (though with higher clock rates).  This actually has important ramifications in memory capacity support (4GB on dual-channel, 2GB on single channel) as well as the maximum supported resolution (2560x1600 on dual, 1920x1200 on single). 

The clock speeds here are listed as maximums, and when I asked about base clocks and the frequency of hitting these peaks, there were some interesting looks from Intel.  The base clock of the Z3770 parts is 1.8 GHz and the other parts are at 1.5 GHz.  How frequently you can hit 2.4 GHz is up to the design of the system you are using the cooling solution efficiency.  Very small (7-in) tablets will be hard to keep at 2.4 GHz for long, but it can reach it when it needs it most.  Notebooks and larger devices that room for better cooling could run at 2.4 GHz for the majority of the time under load. 

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Obviously for higher end tablets that focus on performance and require a higher resolution screen the Z3770 is going to be the SoC of choice. 

The Atom Z3740 and Z3740D are still quad-core, 2MB L2 cache options though their frequencies top out at a 1.8 GHz burst clock rate.  Single and dual-channel options still exist with the same resolution restrictions. 

The Z3680 and Z3680D are dual-core SoCs with 1MB of L2 cache and clock speeds that will reach 2.0 GHz but each only has a single channel memory controller.  In this case though, the Z3680 will only support a resolution of 1280x800 and a 1GB memory capacity compared to the 1920x1200 and 2GB capacity of the Z3680D.  It’s a bit confusing for the ‘D’ model to be higher resolution and capacity than the standard (opposite of the Z3770/D) but the naming scheme maintains the memory controller type information.

September 11, 2013 | 12:15 PM - Posted by brians (not verified)

What is the clock speed of the z3770 you are testing?

How could let Intel not talk about TDP... is it that bad?

September 11, 2013 | 12:25 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It's not great.  The Z3770 bursts up to 2.4 GHz with a base clock of 1.8 GHz.

September 11, 2013 | 03:18 PM - Posted by Timex (not verified)

Given that all the reviewers are benching and testing what is top of the line Atom Z3770 (with dual channel mem and turbo of 2.4Ghz), it is reasonable to expect that the current OEMs using the Clovertrail Z2760 in pricey tablets/hybrids would utilize the new top line Baytrail in similar pricey products?

Another thing to consider is how well or not well Intel has supported the current Atom lineup with buggy crash prone drivers that has ticked off a large number of owners for the past few years.

To top it off, Intel claims that the new Atoms will be found in low priced tablets by the end of the year and if so, those Atoms will be very low spec low clock single channel CPUs.

As you say, the proof of viability of Intel's new Atoms will be in the price of their product pudding.

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September 11, 2013 | 12:38 PM - Posted by Thedarklord

Would be nice to see this on say a low power server system, perfect for File/Media Storage/Streaming as an option to a 35W TDP CPU.

September 11, 2013 | 03:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

maybe get rid of the h.264 encoder/decoder and make the GPU even smaller?

September 11, 2013 | 04:13 PM - Posted by EndTimeKeeper

Poor AMD it looks like they have lost this round already. :( Well if we look at the bright side, it at least appears that their new chips seem to be producing decent performance numbers in graphic intense applications.

September 12, 2013 | 07:42 AM - Posted by WantT100 (not verified)

This is a stunning upgrade from clovertrail .. Intel has finally arrived in this space.

September 12, 2013 | 08:21 AM - Posted by justme (not verified)

interesting to see the higher 3dmark performance on android!?

also, ST performance on cinebench looks equivalent to a A64 3000+ from 2003, but obviously 4x cores and the power efficiency can justify the 10 years difference.

December 8, 2013 | 03:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Considering that this isn't a desktop chip and has much lower power consumption, I think your comparison is a bit ridiculous.

September 12, 2013 | 06:41 PM - Posted by razor512

Is it possible to do a NAS benchmark for the CPU?

I currently use a DIY NAS and it can easily max out a gigabit connection, but it is using a a CPU (AMD APU) that pulls 65 watts. Handling NAS loads and media streaming, and VPN access does not put high load on the CPU.

I don't like premade NAS devices because there are many that cost $1000 with no hard drives and still perform worse than a $550 NAS including 6TB of storage.

It would be awesome if this CPU can work well in a low powered and near silent NAS build

September 12, 2013 | 08:44 PM - Posted by jmasta111 (not verified)

What he said. I am also very interested in the prospect of this technology being used in this way

September 13, 2013 | 07:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What kind of test would you like? How could I get a benchmark that is relavant?

September 13, 2013 | 02:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Isn't the temash HP laptop based on HDD? Did you change the Temash to a SSD to compare against BayTrail?
Also, how about PCMark / Vantage results for comparison?

Thanks.

September 14, 2013 | 08:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

untill i dont know die size of this Atom and its max TDP I cannot apreciate it. Intel avoided to give those numbers, so something is strange.

lets consider that in this moment AMD Jaguar A4-5000 get a die schrink at 22 nm . Then will beat hard the ass of Intel in power, graphics, performance and whatever you want.

September 15, 2013 | 11:37 PM - Posted by drbaltazar (not verified)

Beat Intel?really?better hope Intel doesn't offer this with 3.5 w.if Intel does I'm pretty sure they could up GPU frequency.at 3.5 they would beat and in all but heavy gaming .nobody do hardcore gaming on tablet.

September 17, 2013 | 12:51 AM - Posted by Roman (not verified)

Are your benchmarks using a single core, or all available cores? This is very important, as you directly compare to AMD's competing Temash 1250, which is only a dual core part. You also fail to specify that it's dual core in the spec breakdown, though you give Clovertrail that privelege.

Not getting my tinfoil hat out or anything, and my point is moot if the benchmark only tests a single core, but you should probably highlight (and bold, and underline) core counts as they play a huge role in benchmark results if multithreaded...

September 17, 2013 | 12:53 AM - Posted by Roman (not verified)

Sorry, I should revise my comment to say this is only based on reading the first page - though the points are still valid for that page.

September 17, 2013 | 12:59 AM - Posted by Roman (not verified)

Wow, apologies. I meant the first page with benchmarks (SiSoft Sandra). On a roll tonight..

October 25, 2014 | 01:13 AM - Posted by Claudette (not verified)

Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don't manage to get anything done.

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