We use smartphones and tablets that help us discover new things at blazing fast speeds. But how much do we know about the technology that’s hidden inside them? We only know, for example, that the latest processor is the greatest one to have, but so few know what are the advances over the past generation. Maybe that’s why Apple has decided to use the Retina Display moniker for the high-resolution panels that its products use – it’s much easier for consumers to digest.
We did our best to explain why Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 is such a looked for SoC (System-on-chip) and now we will try to explain a new generation of processors from Intel and why they matter for consumers – the Bay Trail chips. Intel is world’s largest and highest valued semiconductor chip maker, if we look at revenue statistics, so it has the power to hugely influence a market. Many still associate Intel with PCs, but the American company has plunged into the mobile world, as well, with a series of chips aimed at tablets.
As expected, Intel hopes that the “Bay Trail” family of processors can boost the performance of Windows and Android-based tablets but in the same time keep battery life at a very good level. What’s interesting is that, at the recent Developer Forum event, Intel said it expects the Bay Trail processors to power tablets, “two-in-one” convertible tablets and even PC devices. This means that Intel has managed to develop an architecture that allows it to be both on desktop machines and tablets. We should see devices with Bay Trail processors by the end of this year.
Intel’s answer to ARM
The Bay Trail family of processors represent a 22-nm system-on-chip (SoC) with 3D tri-gate transistors based on Intel’s Silvermont architecture which Intel announced at the beginning of May, this year. Silvermont is a SoC processor especially designed to be low power, thanks to tis microarchitecture.
Intel also has plans for the smartphone market, where it has the Merrifield family of processors, but it’s much harder to compete there. Intel’s Atom Z3000 Processor Series, as Bay Trail is codenamed, will replace the previous Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) and the Atom Z2560 (Clover Trail+). Samsung’s 10 inch Galaxy Tab 3 Android tablet was using that.
You should also know that there are three different families: Bay Trail M, Bay Trail T and Bay Trail D. The Bay Trail T, as you probably guessed it by now, is the family for tablets. The Bay Trail M product line is designed for touch-based notebook computers and convertible two-in-one devices. The Bay Trail D processors are for entry-level desktops and represent the smallest of Intel’s chips for desktops.
Zdnet’s Nick Heath describes the technology in detail:
The Z3000’s performance and battery life improvements over current-gen Intel tablet processors is in part made possible by a number of fundamental architectural and design changes in Bay Trail from Intel’s earlier SoCs. The Silvermont microarchitecture of Bay Trail’s CPU cores features out of order instruction execution, which increases the amount of work the processor can do in each cycle, as well as introducing other optimisations. Intel has focused on improving the processors ability to run single threaded applications, as it says majority of applications today are single-threaded.
Bay Trail SoCs are also manufactured using a 22nm transistor process technology, compared to 32nm for current-gen Intel tablet SoCs, and is its first tablet platform to be made using Intel’s 3D Tri-Gate transistors. The Z3000 SoCs also feature a number of power management features – power can be shared between processor cores, the GPU, the camera and the display depending on usage, for instance allowing several CPU cores to run at a higher than base clock speed while the GPU is powered down, see below. Battery life is also boosted by Intel Display Power Saving Technology 6.0, which reduces the backlight but compensates for lost light by enhancing the on-screen image.
Intel Atom Z3000 Processor Series represent Intel’s “first mobile multicore SoC” and Intel also says it comes with “double the compute performance and triple the graphics performance” when compared to the previous generation Atom chip. Some raw estimates from Intel claim that the Atom Z3000 series will have some impressive results in battery life: more than 10 hours of battery time or three weeks on standby. That’s impressive because it seems that Intel is going to price these chips at very affordable prices for OEMs, as it is expected to see Bay Trail chips in tablets that will cost only $200.
A new generation of affordable Windows tablets
I think that willl be the moment when we will see a true revolution in tablet use. And if we are to believe to Paul Thurrot’s leaks, here are some of the possible cheap Windows tablets projected for release in this holiday season, along with the pricing:
- Lenovo Miix 8 at $249: 8-inch screen, 1280 x 800 IPS, 8 hours battery, HD Calling, 3G version available
- Acer W3-810 at $349: 8-inch screen, 1280 x 800 IPS, 8 hours battery, full-sized keyboard, capacitive stylus
- Dell Venue at $299: 8-inch, 1280 x 800 IPS, 10 hours battery, variety of colors
Besides there, we already have the 8-inch, iPad Mini wanna-be rival Toshiba Encore at $329 and Asus’s 10.1 inch Transformer Book T100 that costs $349 for the 32 GB version. As you can see, quite a lot of devices have already been lined up and they’re using Intel’s Bay Trail chips. It will be interesting too see what price and features the next Surface will have, as Microsoft really needs to realize that both Bay Trail and Haswell are making it possible for other OEMs to come with very affordable Windows 8 devices, be it a laptop or a truly powerful laptop.