At the high end of the PC processor market, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is the undisputed champion as far as performance, power, and cost structure go. Long-time rival Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD), despite its repeated and valiant efforts over the years, has yet to produce a competitive part for higher-end PCs. That said, where Advanced Micro Devices has traditionally excelled is at the low-end of the market, particularly as Intel's offerings there hadn't been all that aggressive until the fairly recent Bay Trail-M products (which have proven very competitive). The next generation part, known as Braswell, should eliminate Intel's final deficiency in this space.
Bay Trail-M/D CPU performance and power are superb – graphics performance could be better
Intel's low-cost Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D parts for low-cost notebooks and desktops, respectively, have proven to be very competitive on general purpose CPU performance and power consumption against the competition from AMD. Where Intel's Bay Trail isn't as competitive is in graphics performance, where AMD's IP is generally much more powerful.
That said, it appears that Intel recognizes this deficiency and with its next generation product for this space, known as Braswell, it should pretty dramatically improve graphics performance at the low end. Indeed, this product should be based on the same basic design as the company's upcoming Cherry Trail system-on-chip for higher-end Windows and Android tablets (although modified to include the various I/O required for PC functionality). This implies a brand new graphics architecture and roughly four times the graphics "cores" as the current Bay Trail-M/D products.
Illustrating the competitive situation as it stands today
So far, the discussion has centered on vague notions of graphics performance comparisons. But we can actually quantify these numbers using the performance tests run on AMD's Discovery Tablet reference design based on the top-shelf Mullins silicon. In particular, let's look at the 3D Mark Unlimited graphics subscore to get a sense of how far ahead on graphics AMD is today.
We can see that the AMD part offers a tad under twice the graphics performance of the current Intel Bay Trail processor that is ubiquitous in Windows tablets today (note that the AMD results are from a bulky reference design while Intel's chips have delivered this performance in smaller, shipping products). Of course, note that these are tablet platforms (there do not appear to be any public benchmarks of AMD's latest notebook part, so this was the best way to approximate the performance differential), but should be fairly representative of the competitive picture in the low-end of the PC/convertible market.
With Braswell offering a new GPU architecture (the Gen. 7 in Bay Trail is quite outdated), and given that Intel will be packing four times the number of graphics cores onto that die (thanks to design optimizations and a shrink to 14-nanometer), it stands to reason that Braswell-based chips should offer graphics performance well in excess of what AMD's Beema (notebook variant of the Mullins chip tested above) does.
Further, according to recently leaked roadmaps, Braswell is slated to be available in volume during Q1 2015. This should be well ahead of AMD's "Project Skybridge," which should be AMD's next shot at providing meaningfully improved graphics/processor performance. While it would stand to reason that if Intel does its job correctly its process lead should allow it to zoom past whatever AMD offers in terms of performance/watt, it is probably safer to say (in light of Intel's historical weakness in graphics) that Intel's competitive positioning with Braswell against Project Skybridge should be better than Bay Trail-M/D are against Beema today.
Foolish bottom line
Intel is apparently very serious and very enthusiastic about the low end of the PC market following the success of Bay Trail-M/D in helping to stabilize/grow PC unit volumes. If Bay Trail-M/D, which had a serious graphics performance deficiency against the AMD parts, could gain the share that it has against AMD, then Braswell should only improve that situation for Intel.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel. 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.