Intel makes inroads into mobility

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By Daniel O. Escasa


Who cares if your tablet or smartphone sports an “Intel Inside” logo?

Acer,?ASUS,?Coby, Lava, Lenovo, Motorola, Ramos, and Xolo do.

And they’re counting on the Atom to make a difference to?consumers?as well.

“The processor alone is not enough of a selling point,” admits Leighton Phillips, Director of Product Marketing Pricing, Intel APAC.

“The devices simply have to be better than ARM-based devices in several ways,” he adds; “i.e.,?Atom-powered smartphones and tablets should out-perform ARM-based devices.”

Phillips revealed the results of industry-standard benchmarks that do show that a single-core Atom outgunning a dual-core ARM.

These are benchmarks across the board: gaming, Web browsing, dedicated social networking apps, and others.

Intel claims that Web browsing in particular benefits from the Atom’s architecture.

That performance is due to Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, which enables each processor core to execute two parallel software threads simultaneously. With four threads running at the same time, Web pages download fast, and users can quickly switch between apps.

But how about battery life? Surely, all that performance comes at a cost.

Take Intel’s Wowie Wong, who tortures his smartphone. He takes out his iPhone, fully charged, at around 7:00 a.m., with all radios running ? 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi.

His battery is empty by noon.

In contrast, he field-tested an Atom-powered ASUS Fonepad, which has a?7″?screen, again all radios. The battery lasts a full 12 hours.

The story repeats itself with other Atom-based smartphones and tablets.

Phillips says that Intel worked with Google to port Android to the Atom, and part?of that effort was ensuring that the Android port would take advantage of the Atom’s power-saving features.

Smartphone and tablet platforms built on the Atom Z2580, Z2560, and Z2520 are optimized for Android. The platform is enhanced using Dalvik VM runtime optimization, x86 trace-based Just-in-time (JIT) compilation, native code generation, JavaScript, and HTML5 code execution.

Says Wong: “The processor scales between zero-power C6 standby mode, low-frequency mode (LFM), high-frequency mode (HFM), and max frequency, according to demand.”

“Zero power,” says Wong, “shuts down the device and stores its state in static RAM, which doesn’t require any power at all.”

Sounds good so far: Atom-based smartphones and tablets outperform their ARM counterparts in benchmarks,?and?in battery life. Surely then the former are more expensive than ARM devices.

Surprisingly, the Acer Liquid C1 and the ASUS Fonepad, both covered in this space last month, cost just under P13,000 and P15,000, respectively. Attendees at their respective launches estimated suggested retail prices of the order of P20,000 for each of them.

Those prices are representative of other Atom-based devices.

One possible source of concern could be their 3G/HSPA-only radios, no LTE. But 1) devices with HSPA-only radios are, across the board, much cheaper than LTE terminals and 2) LTE is not quite?yet?as ubiquitous as 3G.

Intel and the device manufacturers are counting on the lower prices of their devices, coupled with superior performance and stingy power consumption to offset the absence of LTE support.

Intel, although late to the smartphone and tablet space, may have just forced ARM to step up their game.

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