Two years ago at Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) investor meeting, executives indicated the company's upcoming mobile system-on-chip -- codenamed Broxton -- would offer leadership performance in the high-end mobile chip space. Further, CFO Stacy Smith said Broxton would deliver great performance "particularly in graphics."
With mobile chip vendor Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) having recently given projections of the graphics performance of its upcoming Snapdragon 820 processor, it's now possible with publicly available data to get a sense of whether the graphics technology within Broxton will be able to compete with Qualcomm's best.
Figuring out Snapdragon 820 graphics performance
According to some recent disclosures from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820 offers 40% more graphics performance than its Snapdragon 810 processor, which has shown up in many flagship Android devices this year. (Qualcomm says the 40% improvement represents an average across the "top" performance tests.)
In the popular 3DMark Unlimited graphics subtest, AnandTech reports that the Snapdragon 810 delivers 33,664 points. If we assume that the Snapdragon 820 can deliver 40% more performance, then this would peg the graphics score at somewhere in the vicinity of 47,130.
Cherry Trail is far off the mark; can Broxton close the gap?
According to AnandTech's review of the Surface 3, Intel's current best mobile applications processor -- known as Cherry Trail -- delivers just 25,734 points in the 3DMark Unlimited graphics subtest.
Keep in mind that Cherry Trail features 16 of Intel's Gen. 8 graphics processor cores. Broxton should, according to a recent leak from BenchLife, feature 18 of Intel's improved Gen. 9 graphics cores.
Intel should be able to deliver enhanced performance by virtue of a revamped graphics architecture and additional graphics cores. A more mature 14-nanometer manufacturing process might also allow these graphics cores to run at higher speeds.
Interestingly, according to a recent leak from website Fanless Tech, Intel's low-power, Skylake-based Core M chip will deliver up to 41% more graphics performance than the comparable Broadwell-based Core M chip.
Since the Broadwell-based Core M has 24 of Intel's Gen. 8 graphics cores and the Skylake-based Core M has 24 of Intel's Gen. 9 graphics cores, it's reasonable to assume this is the kind of "apples to apples" improvement that Intel's Gen. 9 graphics cores deliver over its Gen. 8 cores.
Using the Broadwell-to-Skylake improvements as a reference, let's assume that graphics performance scales roughly linearly with graphics core count. In that case, combining the architectural boost with the increased graphics core count, suggests Broxton could deliver a roughly 59% graphics uplift from Cherry Trail.
A 59% additional performance boost atop the Cherry Trail 3DMark Unlimited graphics subtest score implies that Broxton should be able to score about 40,917 points in that same test -- lower than the projected Snapdragon 820 numbers.
Preliminary analysis: Broxton should have lower graphics performance than Snapdragon 820
Although the analysis above is preliminary, particularly as there are a lot of unknowns here, it would seem that Intel's forthcoming Broxton mobile processor will deliver inferior graphics performance to the Snapdragon 820, at least as measured by the 3DMark Unlimited graphics subtest.
At this point, I think the odds that Intel is able to gain meaningful traction in the premium portion of the smartphone market with Broxton in the 2016 time frame are quite low, given what seems to be less-than-leadership graphics performance as well as the lack of an integrated cellular modem.
The good news, though, is that Intel will likely leverage the same fundamental Broxton design across a number of other market segments, such as low-cost PCs, tablets, and embedded. These markets still represent sizable opportunities for Intel, so the design may yet prove a financial success for the company.