At the Intel(NASDAQ:INTC) investor meeting late last year, the company presented a slide illustrating what products it plans to release in the mobile market during 2016. As noted here, the company indicated that it would have products targeted at all major tiers of the mobile market: value, mid-range, and performance.
We already know some of the basics of what Intel is planning with its performance-oriented Broxton chip: It will feature a next-generation Goldmont CPU core as well as the internally designed "Gen. 9" graphics processor. What we do not have are any details on the value-oriented SoFIA LTE 2 and SoFIA MID beyond the fact that they will be manufactured on Intel 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.
That said, I do have to wonder which CPU core will ultimately find its way into SoFIA MID.
Airmont is probably not enough
For the 2016 time frame, the creme de la creme Intel mobile CPU core is known as Goldmont. There is very little known about this CPU core other than the fact that it is new and probably significantly better than the mobile CPU cores Intel has fielded thus far.
So, if Goldmont is going into the performance-oriented Broxton part, then Intel obviously needs to put something weaker into the SoFIA MID part. My first guess would be the predecessor to Goldmont, known as Airmont, but I do not believe that CPU core will be enough. Let me explain.
Airmont in a post-ARM Cortex A17 world?
Many in the technical community are loath to use the popular Geekbench performance test to get a sense of the relative performance levels of two different architectures, but it is convenient because there is such a vast database of results. This allows us to, at the very least, get a ballpark idea of the relative performance levels of two different chips.
If we look at the Silvermont processor core today, built on Intel 22-nanometer manufacturing technology against an ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A17 (mid-range CPU) chip built on 28-nanometer manufacturing technology, we can see that the Cortex A17 is actually faster than the Silvermont.
Given that ARM is likely to roll out a next-generation CPU core as a follow-on to the already strong A17, I do not think an Airmont is going to cut it, particularly as initial results suggest that it is not going to be a big improvement over Silvermont.
What can/will Intel do, then?
Airmont should be a good core for SoFIA LTE 2, which targets the value portion of the smartphone market, but Intel will need something a bit beefier for the mid-range. I would guess at this point that Intel could dial-down the clock speeds (and performance) on Goldmont and stick it into SoFIA MID. However, if Intel were able to bring out a Goldmont-based part with an integrated modem alongside Broxton in 2016, then what would be the point of the stand-alone Broxton part?
Perhaps Intel uses Goldmont in SoFIA MID but with Broxton delivers more performance in other areas such as graphics, image signal processor, and so on.
At this point, it is not really clear what Intel will do, but I do believe that for SoFIA MID to be a compelling part for the mid-range market, it will need to offer better CPU performance than what Intel has delivered with Airmont.