New Intel chip takes fast jabs at iPhone, Galaxy Nexus

Intel's "Medfield" Atom Z2460 smartphone chip is pretty fast. Fast enough to be competitive with the fastest smartphones on the market.

Liu Jun of Lenovo holding up the K800, Lenovo's first Intel-powered smartphone, at CES 2012.
Liu Jun of Lenovo holding up the K800, Lenovo's first Intel-powered smartphone, at CES 2012. James Martin/CNET

Intel's new chip for phones is surprising in many respects, but the biggest shocker is speed.

The "Medfield" Atom Z2460 chip for smartphones, announced at CES , handily beats some of the fastest phones on the market, review site Anandtech said in this post.

Is this fast enough to be smartphone-market disruptive? Will battery life measure up? Only Lenovo and Motorola know for sure (Anandtech thinks Medfield will be fine on battery life). One thing is for certain, though: neither of those companies are signing up for Medfield out of pity, as Anand Shimpi points out.

And--another shocker--the results that Anandtech cites are not that different from a bar-graph slide (below) that CEO Paul Otellini showed at a Credit Suisse Annual Technology Conference back in November. (I should add that I had somebody whispering in my ear before CES to take those benchmarks seriously. Alas, I didn't.)

If the results hold up for the upcoming Lenovo K800 smartphone (and Motorola's unannounced phones), Intel-based phones should offer stalwarts like the iPhone 4S and Samsung's Galaxy Nexus some headline-grabbing competition.

"Although running what appears to be a stock Gingerbread browser, Intel's Medfield reference platform posts SunSpider performance better than any other smartphone we've tested--including the Galaxy Nexus running Ice Cream Sandwich," said Anandtech. And those results should be maintained for Atom on Ice Cream Sandwich.

Oh, and it beats the iPhone 4S too in that benchmark.

The SunSpider Javascript benchmark: Intel's Medfield smartphone chip is on top.
The SunSpider Javascript benchmark: Intel's Medfield smartphone chip is on top. Anandtech
Though Intel didn't mention what the 'shipping smartphones' were in this slide presented in November, we now know two of those phones were the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Though Intel didn't mention what the 'shipping smartphones' were in this slide presented in November, we now know two of those phones were the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Intel

More good news for Intel: the surprising benchmarks don't stop there. See that Browser Mark benchmark in the lower left-hand corner of the Intel slide above? That's real. The Medfield reference platform delivers "tablet-like scores" on the BrowserMark benchmark too, beating, again, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S, Anandtech said.

Yet another surprise: this is all done with one CPU (central processing unit) core. Which, again, means that Lenovo and Motorola are not adopting Intel's smartphone chip platform on a whim. Careful analysis of benchmarks demonstrates that Intel is offering a real competitive advantage.

Intel Medfield chip power consumption.
Intel Medfield chip power consumption. Anandtech

Here's how Anandtech summarized the Atom Z2460 platform. "Today it appears to deliver better CPU performance than anything on the market, despite only having a single core. GPU (graphics processing unit) performance is still not as fast as what's in the A5 but it's competitive with much of the competition today, and I fully expect the dual-core version of Medfield to rectify this problem."

That dual-core version is called Clover Trail. At least, that's the version for Windows 8 and Ice Cream Sandwich tablets that Intel was demonstrating at CES . In addition to adding a core, it will also have an upgraded GPU.

Will that be competitive with Apple's A6? Or Texas Instruments' OMAP5? Of course, we don't know.

And there's another surprise that Intel is holding close to its vest right now: "Silvermont." That chip will be a completely redesigned Atom that will debut on 22-nanometer manufacturing process technology. The chip promises mainstream laptop-like performance for smartphones. And that story gets even better when Atom jumps to 14 nanometers via "Airmont."

I think it's safe to say that Intel will be a force to reckon with in the smartphone and tablet markets in the years to come.

 

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