Introduction and Design
Alongside our T440s review unit was something slightly smaller and dear to our hearts: the latest entry in the ThinkPad X series of notebooks. Seeing as this very review is being typed on a Lenovo X220, our interest was piqued by the latest refinements to the formula. When the X220 was released, the thin-and-light trend was only just beginning to pick up steam leading into what eventually became today’s Ultrabook movement. Its 2012 successor, the ThinkPad X230, went on to receive our coveted (and rarely bestowed) Editor’s Choice Award, even in spite of a highly controversial keyboard change that sent the fanbase into a panic.
But all of that has since (mostly) blown over, primarily thanks to the fact that—in spite of the minor ergonomic adjustments required to accustom oneself with what was once a jarringly different keyboard design—the basic philosophy remained the same: pack as many powerful parts as possible into a 12.5-inch case while still maintaining good durability and battery life. These machines were every bit as capable as most other 13- and 14-inch notebooks of their time, and they were considerably smaller, too. About the only thing they lacked was higher-resolution screens, discrete graphics, and quad-core CPUs.
But with the X240 (and the T440s), portability has truly taken center stage, suggesting a complete paradigm shift—however subtly—away from “powerful (and light)” and toward “light (and powerful)”. Coupled with Intel’s Haswell CPUs and Lenovo’s new Power Bridge dual-battery design, this will certainly yield great benefits in the realm of battery life. But that isn’t all that’s different: we also find a (once again) revamped keyboard, as well as a completely new touchpad design which finally dispenses with the physical buttons entirely. Like in the X230’s case, these changes have roiled the ThinkPad purists—but is it all just a matter of close-minded traditionalism? That’s precisely what we’ll discover today.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 05:30 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: snapdrdagon 615, snapdragon 610, snapdragon 410, snapdragon, qualcomm, MWC 14, MWC, adreno 405, adreno
Intel, Mediatek and Allwinner have all come out with new SoC announcements at Mobile World Congress and Qualcomm is no different. By far the most interesting release is what it calls the "first commercial" 64-bit Octa-Core chipset with integrated global LTE support. The list of features and technologies included on the chipset is impressive.
The Snapdragon 615 integrates 8 x ARM Cortex-A53 cores that opterate on the newer 64-bit ARMv8 architecture while supporting 32-bit for backwards compatibility. Qualcomm is not using a custom designed CPU core for this chipset but the company has stated it will have its own custom 64-bit core sometime in 2015. This 8-core model is divided into a pair of quad-core clusters that will be tuned to different clock speed and power levels, offering the ability to run slightly more efficiently than would be possible with all cores tuned to the highest performance.
Snapdragon 610 is essentially the same design but is limited to a quad-core, single cluster setup.
Both of these parts will integrate the Qualcomm custom built Adreno 405 GPU that brings a DX11 class feature set, along with OpenGL ES 3.0 and OpenCL 1.2. The Adreno 405 performance is still unknown but it should be able to compete with the likes of PowerVR's Series6 used in the Apple A7 and Intel Merrifield parts. Quad HD resolutions are supported up to 2560x1600 and Miracast integration enables wireless display. H.265 hardware decode acceleration also found its way into the 615/610.
Connectivity features of the Snapdragon 615/610 include 802.11ac wireless as well as the company's 3rd generation LTE modem. Category 4 and carrier aggregation are optional.
Qualcomm has publicly stated that the move to 8-core processors with software lacking the capability to manage them properly was a poor decision. But it would appear that the "core race" has infected just about everyone.
Subject: Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 02:17 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: ultraocta a80, PowerVR, MWC 14, MWC, big.little, Allwinner
The wheels keep turning from Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona with Allwinner's announcement of the UltraOcta A80 SoC. Dubbed the "world's first big.LITTLE octa-core (8-core) heterogeneous SoC to included PowerVR Series6 GPU technology", the UltraOcta A80 combines four Cortex-A7 and four Cortex-A15 cores in a single chip design.
The UltraOcta A80 is aimed at tablets, portable game consoles, set-top boxes, media players and other devices that require "premium performance" level parts. The first devices will apparently hit "soon" but no other details were offered.
ARM is definitely on-board with Allwinner for this product as it is the poster child example of how the big.LITTLE design philosophy can be implemented to offer both high performance and low power results in one SoC. This chip is built on 28nm process technology and also includes high performance graphics with the PowerVR G6230 GPU. This GPU includes two "clusters" for a total of 64 ALUs (called cores in other SoC). Keep in mind that this Series6 GPU is about half the performance of the G6400 series included in the iPhone 5s and even Intel's new Merrifield and Moorefield processors.
The Allwinner UltraOcta A80 will also support 4K video encode and decode with H.265 thrown in for good measure. I am very curious to see the load on the SoC during these types of high quality video processes as the amount of acceleration on the chip isn't known yet.
Subject: Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 04:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: xmm, MWC 14, MWC, lte-advanced, LTE, Intel, 7260
Intel also announced Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs at Mobile World Congress today.
In 2011, Intel acquired SysDSoft to improve and accelerate the companies transition into the mobile wireless controllers, LTE in particular. As a result, Intel released the XMM 7160 modem in 2013 which included the X-GOLD 716 baseband controller that could support LTE and HSPA functions. This modem was adopted by a handful of OEMs in the market with Cat 4 bandwidth up to 150 Mbps (downstream) and 50 Mbps (upstream), LTE voice implementation and globally capability with 15 bands.
This modem was available as a multi-chip solution for mobile device vendors to implement but was shipped in a M.2 module. The latter form gave a quick option for notebook and tablet vendors to include in ready-built systems.
At Mobile World Congress today though, Intel is announcing its next generation modem, the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced. As the name implies, this update includes support for LTE-Advanced that adds in features like carrier aggregation and a pair of downlink channels for up to 300 Mbps data rates. Carrier aggregation can be used for additional bandwidth performance or to disperse spectrum in a more efficient way to improve reliability. Intel claims that this controller and modem meets the maximum specification levels of LTE today.
The XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced includes the X-GOLD 726 that is truly a global market ready part with frequency compatibility on LTE FDD/TDD, WCDMA/HSPA+, TD-SCDMA/TD-HSPA/EDGE. This iteration uses fewer components, thus is smaller and easier to integrate than the 7160, and will be "on shelf" as early as next quarter. There is no CDMA support included, though. For users on Verizon and Sprint, we'll have to see if handset makers for those carriers have adjusted their timelines for LTE-only devices. AT&T and T-Mobile, in the US, will have no issues with 4G and 3G support.
This modem is meant to compete directly with the stranglehold that Qualcomm has on the LTE market (and one source tells me that carriers "are dying for an alternative" to help drive down costs). Though it might seem odd in some ways, I fully expect this XMM 7260 modem to be paired with non-Intel SoC devices, including smartphones and tablets. In fact, it is quite possible that the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced modem might have more successful adoption than the upcoming Merrifield SoCs, also announced today. Device manufacturers might be satisfied with their choice in SoCs, not demanding an alternative in x86, but also might appreciate a new modem.
As a side note, the XMM 7260 is being built on TSMC's 28nm process technology rather than on Intel's own fabs (this isn't the first time it has happened). I don't expect this to be a concern for performance but it is interesting to see a chip that Intel is placing so much emphasis on being constructed outside its own walls.
The XMM 7269 LTE-Advanced modem is currently in certification and is expected to be available for integration in Q2, 2014.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 04:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 03:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: wiko, Tegra 4i, tegra, nvidia, MWC 14, MWC
NVIDIA has been teasing the Tegra 4i for quite some time - the integration of a Tegra 4 SoC with the acquired NVIDIA i500 LTE modem technology. In truth, the Tegra 4i is a totally different processor than Tegra 4. While the big-boy Tegra 4 is a 4+1 Cortex-A15 chip with 72 GPU cores, the Tegra 4i is a 4+1 Cortex-A9 design with 60 GPU cores.
NVIDIA and up-and-coming European phone provider Wiko are announcing at Mobile World Congress the first Tegra 4i smartphone: Wax. That's right, the Wiko Wax.
Here is the full information from NVIDIA:
NVIDIA LTE Modem Makes Landfall in Europe, with Launch of Wiko Tegra 4i LTE Smartphone
Wiko Mobile, France’s fastest growing local phonemaker, has just launched Europe’s first Tegra 4i smartphone.
Tegra 4i – our first integrated LTE mobile processor – combines a 60-core GPU and our own LTE modem to bring up to 2X higher performance than competing phone chips.
It helps the Wiko WAX deliver fast web browsing, best-in-class gaming performance, smooth video playback and great battery life.
Launched at Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, the Wiko WAX phone features a 4.7-inch 720p display, 8MP rear camera and LTE / HSPA+ support.
The phone will be available throughout Europe – including France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, UK and Belgium – starting in April.
Within two short years, Wiko has become a major player by providing unlocked phones with sophisticated design, outstanding performance and the newest technologies. It has more than two million users in France and is expanding overseas fast.
Wiko WAX comes pre-installed with TegraZone – NVIDIA’s free app that showcases the best games optimized for the Tegra processor.
As a refresher, Tegra 4i includes a quad-core CPU and fifth battery saver core, and a version of the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem optimized for integration.
The result is an extremely power efficient, compact, high-performance mobile processor that unleashes performance and capability usually only available in costly super phones.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 24, 2014 - 12:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: smartphones, MWC 14, MWC, Lenovo
Also at Mobile World Congres, Lenovo expanded their smartphone portfolio with three additions. Each of these belong to the S-series, although they are only loosely related to one another. North American readers will probably not be able to purchase them, of course; Lenovo's US and Canada websites do not even have a section for smartphones (products like the Vibe Z can be searched directly - but are not available). I take that as a sign.
Anyway, the three phones belong to the S-series but each has a distinct customer in mind. The S860 seems to picture a business user who travels and wants to talk for long periods of time between charges. The similarly named S850 cuts back on RAM and charge capacity, replacing it with aesthetics (colors and an all-glass exterior) and a slightly lower price for users looking for design. Finally, the S660 is the lowest-price of the three, sacrificing things like camera, storage, and screen resolution for users who do not care about any of that.
Let us compare the three phones in a table.
|Display||5.3" 720p||5" 720p||4.7" 960x540|
|Processor (SoC)||MediaTek Quad-Core, 1.3 GHz|
|Dual SIM Card||Yes|
All three phones will be available this year, either at retail or on Lenovo's website. The Lenovo S860 is expected to retail for $349, the S850 should be $269, and the S660 comes in at $229.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 23, 2014 - 01:01 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: tablet, MWC 14, MWC, lenovo yoga, Lenovo
At Mobile World Congress 2014, Lenovo has announced the YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. Just last month, we discussed the Yoga Tablet 8 and Yoga Tablet 10 which were presented in October. Those tablets each had a 1280x800 display (even the 10-inch model), both sizes use the same MediaTek MT8125 SoC (Wi-Fi, MT8389 for 3G), and it is 1GB of RAM all-around. Performance was expected to be in the ballpark of a Tegra 3 device.
These are all areas which are bumped for the new YOGA Tablet 10 HD+. The 10.1-inch screen is now at 1080p quality, the SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad running at 1.8 GHz, and the RAM is doubled to 2GB. It will running Android 4.3 with an alleged over-the-air (OTA) update to 4.4 KitKat, at some point.
Make sure to bend at the knee and put your hands toge... oh right.
Comparing between the Yoga Ultrabooks, running Windows, and the YOGA Tablets, running Android, would probably not be wise. They are very different designs. The Ultrabooks hinge with an always-attached keyboard while the tablets have a keyboard-less stand. Rather than the Ultrabooks trying to make a keyboard comfortable in tablet usage, the tablets use the small metal hinge to prop up the screen. They key aspect of the cylindrical hinge is its usage as a handle and the volume it provides as battery storage. Ryan found the old versions' 18-hour rated battery life to be fairly accurate, and the new 10 HD+ is rated for the same duration (actually, with a bonus 1000 mAh over the original Tablet 10). Another benefit of its battery location is that, if you are holding the tablet by its hinge, the battery's weight will not have much torque on your fingers.
Of course, now comes the all-important pricing and availability. The Lenovo YOGA Tablet 10 HD+ will be released in April starting at $349. This is higher than the prices of the Tablet 8 and Tablet 10, $199 and $274 respectively, but you also get more for it.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 21, 2014 - 10:47 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: wearables, wearable computing, quark, Intel, arm
On a post from the official ARM blogs, the guns are blazing in the battle for the wearable market mind share. Pretty much all the currently available wearable computing devices are using ARM-based processors but that hasn't prevented Intel from touting its Quark platform as the best platform for wearables. There are still lots of questions about Quark when it comes to performance and power consumption but ARM decided to pit its focus on heat.
For a blog post on ARM's website:
Intel’s Quark is an example that has a relatively low level of integration, but has still been positioned as a solution for wearables. Fine you may think, there are plenty of ARM powered communication chipsets it could be paired with, but a quick examination of the development board brings the applicability further into question. Quark runs at a rather surprising, and sizzling to the touch, 57°C. The one attribute it does offer is a cognitive awareness, not through any hardware integration suitable for the wearable market, but from the inbuilt thermal management hardware (complete with example code), which in the attached video you can see is being used to toggle a light switch once touched by a finger which, acting as a heat sync, drops the temperature below 50°C.
Along with this post is a YouTube video that shows this temperature testing taking place.
Of course, when looking at competitive analysis between companies you should always take the results as tentative at best. There is likely to be some change between the Quark Adruino board (Galileo) integration of the X1000 and what would make it into a final production wearable device. Obviously this is something Intel is award of as well and they are also aware of what temperature means for devices that users will have such direct contact with.
The proof will be easy to see, either way, as we progress through 2014. Will device manufacturers integrated Quark in any final design wins and what will the user experience of those units be like?
Still, it's always interesting to see marketing battles heat up between these types of computing giants.
Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2014 - 09:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: tegra note 7, tegra 4, nvidia, LTE, i500
In November of last year NVIDIA and some of its partners around the world released the Tegra Note 7, a 7-in tablet that was powered by NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC. I posted a review of the unit on its launch and found that the Note 7 offered some impressive features including a high quality screen, stylus input and high performance graphics for a cost of just $199. Users that were looking for a budget priced Android tablet that didn't skimp on features found a perfect home with the Tegra Note 7.
In preparation for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, NVIDIA is announcing a new model of the Tegra Note 7 that adds an LTE modem. The appropriately named Tegra Note 7 LTE still includes the full performance Tegra 4 SoC but adds to it the NVIDIA i500 software LTE modem that enables support for the LTE and HSPA+ bands in the US. That means you can expect support on AT&T and T-Mobile networks. This is NOT the Tegra 4i SoC that integrates the i500 controller directly on die; this integration is two distinct chips.
The rest of the specifications of the Tegra Note 7 LTE remain the same as the previous model. A 7-in 1280x800 resolution screen, front facing stereo speakers, front and rear cameras, chisel and brush tipped stylus and more. The price of this new model will be $299 and it should be available "in the 2nd quarter." That is a $100 markup over the current Tegra Note 7 that is WiFi only. The Google Nexus 7 only has an $80 premium for the LTE-enabled option.
Also announced with the Tegra Note 7 LTE is the availability of the 4.4.2 KitKat Android update for all Tegra Note 7 devices. Along with the Android OS tweaks and updates you'll get support for the NVIDIA Gamepad Mapper to enable touch-based games to work on an attached controller.
Another solid OS update for existing Tegra Note 7 devices and LTE data support in a new model perk up the NVIDIA tablet line quite a bit. With MWC kicking into high gear in the next few days I am sure we will see numerous new competitors in this 7-in tablet market though so we'll have to hold judgement on the Note 7's continued placement in the market.
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