Will Intel Corporation’s Moorefield Be a Game Changer?

Will Intel's upcoming Moorefield platform for smartphones and tablets be competitive against its primary competition?

May 25, 2014 at 12:00PM

The mobile system-on-a-chip competitive landscape is starting to take shape as we head into the midpoint of 2014. In particular, we now know what NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), and others are going to deliver to power high-end smartphones and tablets going into the back half of this year. In this article, the focus will be on the Moorefield platform, which is Intel's high-end, 22-nanometer smartphone play for the rest of 2014 and the first half of 2015.

How does Moorefield stack up?
In the chart below, I compare the top-level specifications (CPU, GPU, image signal processor, etc.) of Intel's Moorefield, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805, and the NVIDIA Tegra K1. From there we can delve into the analysis proper.

 

Intel Z3580 (Moorefield)

NVIDIA Tegra K1 32-bit

Qualcomm Snapdragon 805

CPU

4 core/4 thread Silvermont CPU core @ 2.33 GHz

4 core/4 thread ARM Cortex A15r3 @ 2.3 GHz

4 core/4 thread Krait 450 @ 2.7 GHz

Graphics

Imagination PowerVR G6430 @ 533MHz

NVIDIA Mobile Kepler

Qualcomm Adreno 420

Max Memory Bandwidth

12.8 GB/sec

17 GB/sec

25.6 GB/sec

Image Signal Processor

13MP front facing, 2.1MP rear facing

Support for up to 100Mpixel sensor (1.2 Gigapixel/sec)

1 Gigapixel/sec

Cellular

Discrete; LTE-Advanced cat. 6 capable w/ XMM 7260

Discrete; LTE cat. 4 capable w/ Icera i500

Discrete; LTE-Advanced cat. 6 capable w/ MDM9x35

Connectivity

Discrete

Discrete

GPS

Source: Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm.

While this high-level glance doesn't tell you everything about the chip's competitive position, it's clear right off the bat that when it comes to memory bandwidth and imaging/camera -- the latter of which is particularly important for high-end devices -- Moorefield falls significantly behind the NVIDIA and Qualcomm platforms. Lack of support for high megapixel sensors alone knocks it out of the running for fairly high-end phones which typically demand very high sensor resolutions.

Potential graphics performance
While we don't have actual benchmark scores for Moorefield, we do have results for the Apple A7, which is powered by the same GPU block. The major difference between the implementation in the A7 and the Moorefield is that -- thanks to Intel's 22-nanometer process -- the G6430 in Moorefield clocks at 533 megahertz, a cool 133 MHz higher than the A7's implementation. This means that we can roughly extrapolate Moorefield's performance by studying the A7's results in various benchmarks and adding about 33%.

Without further ado, using benchmark scores from AnandTech for the Apple A7 in the iPad Air and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 reference tablet, here's a preliminary graphics performance analysis. 

Images

Source: AnandTech.

In 3DMark Unlimited, the Z3580 should offer class-leading performance, particularly as the A7 seems to do quite well in this test relative to the Qualcomm chip.

Basemark

Source: AnandTech.

Basemark (high quality) seems to be a benchmark in which Qualcomm's Adreno 420 GPU excels. If the performance here scales well with GPU clock speed, then the Intel chip should be competitive, although the Snapdragon should have a slight performance lead here again.

Gfx Bench T Rex

Source: AnandTech.

In the GFXBench T-Rex test, Qualcomm's Adreno 420 again excels, outpacing the A7 and edging out the projected Moorefield numbers.

Gfx Bench

Source: AnandTech.

In the GFXBench Manhattan test, the Snapdragon 805 again outpaces the A7 and the projected Z3580 results.

All in all, it looks as though the Snapdragon 805 should offer better peak graphics performance than Moorefield, although the delta shouldn't be too large. Furthermore, it'll be interesting to see how both Moorefield and Snapdragon 805 test in smartphone form factors (the Snapdragon 805 numbers are in a 10-inch reference tablet).

CPU performance should be a strength
While the Snapdragon 805 should offer an edge over the Intel Z3580, the tables should turn when we look at pure CPU performance. Looking at Geekbench 3, we can see that Intel's Bay Trail (which has four Silvermont CPU cores with a maximum clock speed of 2.39 gigahertz) edges out the Snapdragon 805 results.

Gb

Source: Primate Labs, AnandTech.

According to Geekbench 3, the quad Silvermont CPUs at 2.33 GHz should offer roughly the same performance as the quad Krait CPUs at 2.7 GHz. The Krait core has a slight edge over the Silvermont in single-threaded performance, but when all four cores are lit up, the Intel chip should have a slight edge. That said, these two chips look to be within spitting distance of each other on peak CPU performance.

Foolish takeaway
Intel's Moorefield looks pretty good from a CPU and graphics performance perspective, and it will likely be quite competitive with the best from Qualcomm on those fronts. However, when it comes to imaging performance, the Qualcomm and NVIDIA chips handily outpace the Intel processor. The good news is that Intel has its graphics and CPU performance/power stories down pat (something that bears usually cite as an Intel weaknesses in mobile), but the bad news is that Moorefield still isn't quite best in class when all vectors are considered.

The relatively poor imaging performance will limit Moorefield's penetration in higher-end smartphones, but shouldn't be a hindrance in cellular-enabled Android tablets. Intel is making good progress, but it seems to be one generation away from a leadership position and even further from a game changer. 

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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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