Intel Corporation’s Atom Z3580 Is Another Big Step Forward

Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) mobile group has had some pretty serious execution issues during the last several years. It's not that the company can't design good, low-power chips; it's that by the time these parts actually make it to market, they're just not that great anymore, and end up in the proverbial bargain bin. At Computex 2014, Intel shared some performance numbers for its recently released Atom Z3580 (codenamed Moorefield) product, and the numbers do look good, but investors should view it more as a key technological milestone rather than a product that will drive meaningful top/bottom line upside this year.

CPU performance looks fantastic
Intel's Z3580 is based on the Silvermont CPU core announced last year, and performance tests generally suggest that it is best-in-class as far as CPU performance goes. In terms of power consumption it is exceptionally good. While the following slides come from Intel, the numbers tend to jive with the performance results that we have seen with Intel's Atom Z3770, which has been available in systems for nearly a year.

Source: Intel.

As you can see, both the Intel and Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) chip are faster than the ridiculous "octa-core" MediaTek part -- which uses eight wimpy cores versus Qualcomm/Intel, which use four strong ones. The Intel chip seems to be about 27% faster than the Snapdragon 801 in a real-world application. This is an impressive showing, especially since the Intel chip is delivering this kind of performance in a 4.5-inch reference design against the Snapdragon 801 found in a 5.1-inch device.

Graphics performance looks good, too
Intel also showed some performance comparisons of the Z3580 against the Snapdragon 801 in graphics workloads. The two benchmarks chosen are GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex HD and 3D Mark 1.2 Ice Storm Unlimited, and the results can be seen below.

Source: Intel.

In 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Z3580 edges the Snapdragon 801 out by a respectable 12%. To put this in perspective, according to AnandTech, the Snapdragon 801 is about 22% faster than the Imagination G6430 found inside of the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) A7, which uses the same GPU block as Intel's Z3580. The clock speed improvements brought about by Intel's 22-nanometer FinFET process have a meaningful impact on performance.

Source: Intel.

In GFXBench, we see a slight lead again for Z3580, eking out a 15% performance lead over the Snapdragon 801. Both the Snapdragon and the Atom are dramatically ahead of MediaTek's solution.

If we look at how the Apple A7 compares to the Snapdragon 801 in AnandTech's testing, we see that the Snapdragon 801 can render the test at an average of 27 frames per second, while the iPad Air delivers 26.2 frames per second. The numbers here suggest that Intel's implementation delivers 31 frames per second -- a 20% improvement over Apple's implementation.

When will we see Z3580 in action?
ASUS announced a tablet based on the Moorefield platform, but what everybody really cares about is when this chip will find its way inside of a smartphone. Intel has indicated that this platform will be paired with the company's discrete XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced modem. This modem is quite good, even if it isn't integrated into the apps processor.

Since Intel has indicated that the XMM 7260 is shipping to customers for interoperability testing, I would not expect phones on the shelves with Z3580 with the latest modem until late Q3/early Q4. We may see phones with Z3580 paired with the older XMM 7160 modem beforehand, although the value proposition of that solution against a Snapdragon 801 -- which integrates a better modem than XMM 7160, as well as connectivity -- seems limited.

Foolish bottom line
Anybody who says that Intel can't deliver strong performance/power optimized smartphone silicon is just plain wrong. There are good reasons why Intel hasn't won all that many smartphone designs to date, and these are issues that Intel needs to work through, but the worst of it is over. Intel can deliver world-class, power-optimized chips from a CPU/graphics perspective and, as the company improves its image signal processor, and integrates its modems into future products, it should have a much easier time gaining traction.

Intel's Z3580 isn't a Qualcomm-killer, but the next generation part, codenamed Broxton, could very well be the first product that gets Intel into a flagship, tier-1 smartphone, bolstering investor confidence, and illuminating a path to share gains and, eventually, profitability.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 1:02 PM, symbolset wrote:

    Sigh. Comparing GPU benchmarks, give the Intel device half as many pixels. This is not how you win mobile.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 2:19 PM, raghu78 wrote:

    Ashraf

    Intel pumping back at its best. The S805 is shipping to OEM customers and will be available in the Q3 time frame in phones at retail.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8035/qualcomm-snapdragon-805-p...

    S805 T-Rex HD Offscreen score of 40.7 is 30% faster than Z3580.

    "There are good reasons why Intel hasn't won all that many smartphone designs to date, and these are issues that Intel needs to work through, but the worst of it is over. Intel can deliver world-class, power-optimized chips from a CPU/graphics perspective and, as the company improves its image signal processor, and integrates its modems into future products, it should have a much easier time gaining traction."

    Do you think Qualcomm is sitting idle. Moorefield goes up against S805 and does not have any major advantage. Cherrytrail goes up against the massive and highly integrated S810 in H1 2015 and has no chance without integration of a advanced LTE baseband. By the time Broxton ships in late 2015 or early 2016 Qualcomm's custom ARMv8 core based SOCs manufactured at TSMC or Samsung 16/14 FINFET will be ready. Even with 22nm FINFET Intel has no leadership. Qualcomm will beat Intel hands down on a FINFET process not to mention it has much superior baseband tech with much wider compatibility.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 2:21 PM, raghu78 wrote:

    Ashraf

    Intel pumping back at its best. The S805 is shipping to OEM customers and will be available in the Q3 time frame in phones at retail.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8035/qualcomm-snapdragon-805-p...

    S805 T-Rex HD Offscreen score of 40.7 is 30% faster than Z3580.

    "There are good reasons why Intel hasn't won all that many smartphone designs to date, and these are issues that Intel needs to work through, but the worst of it is over. Intel can deliver world-class, power-optimized chips from a CPU/graphics perspective and, as the company improves its image signal processor, and integrates its modems into future products, it should have a much easier time gaining traction."

    Do you think Qualcomm is sitting idle. Moorefield goes up against S805 and does not have any major advantage. Cherrytrail goes up against the massive and highly integrated S810 in H1 2015 and has no chance without integration of a advanced LTE baseband. By the time Broxton ships in late 2015 or early 2016 Qualcomm's custom ARMv8 core based SOCs manufactured at TSMC or Samsung 16/14 FINFET will be ready. Even with 22nm FINFET Intel has no leadership. Qualcomm will beat Intel hands down on a FINFET process not to mention it has much superior baseband tech with much wider compatibility.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 2:30 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    @ symbolset

    The results are off-screen, so they are all rendered at the same resolution for testing purposes.

    @ raghu78

    Broxton is a mid-2015 product, and S805 performance numbers were measured in a tablet. Moorefield numbers are from a 4.5-inch smartphone. Let's see how 805 holds up in a handset, and what the power consumption looks like.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 3:31 PM, raghu78 wrote:

    ashraf

    You were vehemently arguing that Cherrytrail is a late 2014 product. That did not end well right. Broadwell will make it to retail by Q4 2014 but Cherrytrail is now a H1 2015 product. You seriously think Intel ships Broxton 6 months after Cherrytrail. Sorry but thats not happening.

    Intel has already talked about a crowded H2 2015 product ramp. Intel has Broadwell mobile, Broadwell Xeons, Skylake desktop and then Broxton/SOFIA 14nm. Intel even hinted that SOFIA 14nm is likely to come only in 2016. Your optimism for a mid 2015 Broxton is commendable but misplaced.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 4:33 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    "You were vehemently arguing that Cherrytrail is a late 2014 product. That did not end well right. Broadwell will make it to retail by Q4 2014 but Cherrytrail is now a H1 2015 product. You seriously think Intel ships Broxton 6 months after Cherrytrail. Sorry but thats not happening."

    Cherry Trail will still likely launch at the end of this year, with broader device roll-outs during 1H 2015. Cherry Trail is also tablet and cheap PCs (Braswell platform) only, not for smartphones.

    Intel claims mid-2015 launch of Broxton, Q1 2016 launch for 14nm SoFIA. This should position Intel fairly well over the next few years, certainly the strongest competitive position it will have ever been in vis-a-vis mobile.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2014, at 11:43 PM, raghu78 wrote:

    "Intel claims mid-2015 launch of Broxton, Q1 2016 launch for 14nm SoFIA. This should position Intel fairly well over the next few years, certainly the strongest competitive position it will have ever been in vis-a-vis mobile. "

    So you blindly go by Intel claims. They did their best to convince everyone that Broadwell was not delayed. Only a die hard Intel fan will believe a 6 month gap between Cherrytrail and Broxton. :-)

    Intel's competitive position is not in a vacuum. Intel's products are to be compared against the competition in the same time frame. And given that Intel's first fully integrated 14nm products are going up against Qualcomm's products built at TSMC/Samsung 16//14 FINFET its hard to be bullish. Intel's process node advantage with FINFET is what is keeping x86 competitive with ARM. Without that its advantage to the ARM partners like Qualcomm and Apple.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 9:40 AM, SPM100 wrote:

    Intel is in trouble if Qualcom's 801 which is based on 28nm planar process is just about matched by Intel's latest Silvermount mobile SoCs on 22nm FinFET.

    Since FinFET accounts for a 30%-45% performance improvement over planar technology, this means that the Intel architecture penalty is still present.

    When ARM SoCs transition to 20nm and 16nm/14nm FinFET, the ARM advantage will be restored with a vengence against Intel's forthcoming 22nm FinFET Silvermount SoCs (Q4 2014 for delivery in volume), and Intel's 16nm FinFET SoCs which we should see in Q3-Q4 2015 in volume - which should about the same time in volume as 20nm and 14nm/16nm FinFET ARM SoCs.

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