When Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) announced its Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D families of low-cost, low-power processors for budget laptops and desktops, respectively, it marked a significant inflection point. Intel finally had low-cost products that could, at very good margins, take significant share in the low end of the PC market. By Intel's own admission it had neglected this segment for some time and, as a result, its share was quite low.
Fast forward to today and Intel's share at the low end of the PC market is significantly improved since Bay Trail-M/D were launched, and the company's PC-related revenue and profit are also up nicely. Intel also signaled that a next generation platform for this space, Braswell, would bring significant performance and power improvements.
Thanks to some new information that hit the Web, we can dig in and see if Intel will deliver on these claims.
Some initial Braswell information
Website Fudzilla published some initial specifications of one of the Braswell parts. According to the site, Braswell will feature four Airmont CPU cores with a 1.6GHz base clock with the ability to turbo to 2.4GHz. Fudzilla points out that the Pentium N3540 features a base clock of 2.16GHz and turbo frequency of 2.66GHz, so this looks like a regression.
Fudzilla also has details on the clock speeds of the GPU. According to the site, the base clock for the GPU is 400MHz and max turbo is 700MHz. For good measure, Fudzilla compares this to the aforementioned Bay Trail part, noting that the N3540 has a 313MHz base clock and goes to 896MHz at max turbo.
For good measure, Fudzilla also has thermal design power rating information. The Braswell-based Pentium N3700 will reportedly feature a 6 watt thermal design power, which is a reduction from the 7.5 watt thermal design power of the Bay Trail-M part.
Analyzing these specifications
What we seem to have here is a CPU that runs at both lower base and max turbo frequencies, which suggests that CPU performance comes down from Bay Trail to Braswell. However, graphics performance seems to move up significantly. Thermal design power also comes down, implying a reduction in the power consumption of the chip.
For low-cost, consumer-focused laptops (which is what the Pentium N3700 targets) this is -- on balance -- a significant improvement. More PC games will run acceptably on Braswell than on Bay Trail (which is a big boost to the user experience), and battery life in typical usage scenarios should move up.
However, given the significant purported advantages of Intel's 14-nanometer manufacturing technology, I'm surprised that Intel had to sacrifice so much in the way of base CPU clock. I'm also a bit puzzled as to why Intel wasn't able to get higher max turbo frequencies on the CPU relative to Bay Trail. Initial leaks showed that Intel's target for max turbo on Airmont was 2.7GHz.
Is there a 14-nanometer process problem?
I am starting to seriously wonder if Intel is having issues with the system-on-chip variant of its 14-nanometer process. Braswell has been delayed significantly, reportedly from the first quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2015, and the clock speeds -- particularly on the CPU side of things -- look as though they have fallen short of Intel's own targets.
If this is the case, I would hope that Intel sorts these issues out by the time its 14-nanometer Broxton and SoFIA chips in the mobile space roll out, which will be built on the same process as Braswell. If not, then this could hurt the competitiveness of Intel's 2016 mobile processor lineup.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. 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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