What does ARM say about Intel’s Haswell mobile ambitions?

Intel’s keynote at Computex was defined by its push into the mobile sector. Indeed, Intel’s Tom Kilroy said the next-generation of the company’s hardware would be able to break the “x86 power myth” meaning that these chips would have a total power draw similar to ARM’s chips — which are known for their austere power requirements.

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“Intel has busted the x86 power myth,” Kilroy said at Intel’s keynote. During the keynote he showed off a prototype fanless Haswell-powered tablet, as a way of demonstrating the company’s resolve.

The reason why an ARM-competitive processor is an achievement for Intel is it would allow the x86 ecosystem to expand to the mobile sector, a sector dominated by ARM. Software written for the instruction set could run natively on an x86-powered mobile device, giving it the advantage of a massive app-library. Windows 8, for example, would run natively eliminating the need for Windows RT.

So what does ARM think about all of this?

When asked, a spokesperson for the company said that ARM still has an advantage over Intel’s mobile chips in die size.

“It’s really a question of the ARM architecture versus x86 architecture. ARM’s RISC roots allow for very scalable processors. The Cortex-A7 for example occupies less than 0.5 mm^2 of die in 28nm [fabrication] – that’s less than a tenth the size of an Intel Atom (Medfield) processor core in a similar process technology node,” ARM’s Elsa Wen told VR-Zone.

“Even the high-end Cortex-A15 processor core which delivers multiple times the performance of the Atom Medfield processor is less than half the size. This is one of the key advantages of the ARM architecture,” she said. “ARM platforms will shortly make it through to 20nm in the coming year, where the performance per milliwatt advantage will grow.”

Wen said that ARM does not see Intel’s Haswell being able to work in tablets because of its inability to fit into the thermal and power constraints of the form factor due to the die size.

It should be noted that Intel has yet to ship a 22nm Atom; Medfield (Saltwell) is based on the 32nm fabrication size.

Bay Trail 1 ARM says it can beat Haswell at the performance per watt game

ARM’s ability to fit its chips into such a small die size with a low power draw is the envy of its competitors. Some companies, like AMD, have chosen to embrace ARM’s technology. AMD is planning to release ARM-powered server hardware in the near future.

However, it may be that ARM might have to eat its own words in the near future. At Computex, Intel’s Clover Trail+ was shown off in a variety of tablet and smartphone based systems and it beat leading ARM chips in the power consumption game. In addition this month, ABI Research, a technology consultancy, published a report that showed the Intel-powered Lenovo K900 held its own against four leading ARM powered smartphones — including a Samsung i9500 Galaxy S 4 with a “big.LITTLE” 1.6GHz Cortex-A15 chip.

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“Intel stood out with only 0.85A of average current vs. 1.38A for the Samsung Exynos Octa, and 1.79A for the Qualcomm APQ8064T,” ABI wrote in its report.

Intel finding success in crafting some sort of cogent mobile strategy is of paramount importance to the company. If it doesn’t find a way into create a significant inroads into the mobile market with a cogent mobile strategy, it will no longer be the titan it once was.

Real-world benchmarks on Intel’s 6W SDP Haswell Y-series or Bay Trail chips have yet to appear. Only when they do will it be possible to see if Intel has really “busted the x86 power myth” or if the company’s chips are handicapped by die size/complexity.

Image credit: Chinese VR-Zone