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Intel revamps mobile offering with 64-bit Merrifield and Moorfield CPUs

More power, 64-bit support and better integrated LTE from Intel's latest SoCs

With the desktop market shrinking and people increasing moving towards mobile devices, Intel is making a big push for smartphones and tablets with its new SoCs (System on a Chip). Codenamed Merrifield and Moorefield, the Atom-branded SoCs offer more performance and better power efficiency than the current Clover Trail range.

Headline specs for the new range include a 22nm process technology to provide better power efficiency, the new Silvermont micro architecture, Power VR Series 6 graphics, and 64-bit support. The latter means that Intel catches up with Apple, which introduced the 64-bit A7 SoC with the iPhone 5S and then rolled it out to the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display.

Intel has contributed a 64-bit kernel to Android 4.4.2, so that its new processors are fully supported in partners’ smartphones and tablets. However, it’s telling from Intel’s presentation that Android 4.4.2-L (the 64-bit version) is listed as depending on “Google’s release timing”.

A big addition to the new platform is the integrated sensor solution, which perform a similar job to Apple’s M7 co-processor, letting the phone monitor its sensors, allowing it to react to the environment. Intel’s SoC uses low-power parts to monitor motion and gesture, audio and locations. There’s a wide range of uses for this technology, including device personalisation, where user context can be used to change device settings, such as the ringtone and wireless access.

Better LTE support is also coming, with the new 4G modem able to support a wider-range of frequencies, giving it global support.

Both Merrifield (Atom Z34) and Moorefield (Atom Z35) are based on the same architecture, but Moorefield is the faster of the two. It has four cores, a faster PowerVR G6430 GPU and supports up to 4GB of 800MHz DDR3 RAM. Merrifield is a dual-core chip, with a slightly slower PowerVR G6400 GPU and it supports up to 4GB of 533MHz DDR3 RAM.

Intel Merrifield and Moorield specs
The specs compared

Intel has released benchmarks, comparing its reference Merrifield-based phone to other competitors. We’re waiting for the opportunity to run our own benchmarks, but for now Intel’s results gives us a feel for where performance should be.

First, is results from WebXPRT 2013. All results are normalised to the Clover Trail-based Atom Z2580 CPU, which would score one. In this particular test we can see that Intel’s expecting the Merrifield Atom Z3480 to be more than double the performance of the previous generation, around twice as fast as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and slightly faster than the Apple A7.

Intel Merrifield and Moorield specs web performance
Performance in the WebXPRT 2013 benchmark

In the graphics benchmark, GFXBench 2.7 (Egypt HD Offscreen), which is an OpenGL benchmark, Intel’s Z3480 is slightly slower than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, but the Moorefield variant, with its faster GPU, pushes performance slightly higher.

Intel Merrifield and Moorield specs graphics performance
Gaming performance compared

Intel has also published some battery benchmarks, showing that its reference phone has better battery life than existing models. However, this is hard to gauge, as it’s the combination of specs in a final product (screen, battery, SoC and so on) that really count; a reference phone can’t be bought, so how long its battery lasts doesn’t mean a lot. What the benchmarks show us, is that Intel’s latest SoC is power efficient and can contribute to extending battery life.

At the moment, both Merrifield and Moorefield are ready, but they’re not in any commercial products. Intel expects to announce partners by the end of Q2 this year, but it could take a while before we see anything on the shelves. Until then, this latest revision of Atom is a step in the right direction, but competition from Qualcomm and ARM is going to be tough.

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