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Intel has unveiled powerful new Bay Trail Atom processors which are set to power upcoming Android and Windows 8 tablets.  We take a look at what they have to offer and why you should be interested.

Intel announced today the launch of its new Atom processors, codenamed Bay Trail. The range follows on from the chip manufacturer’s previous Clover Trail CPUs, which featured mainly in Windows 8 tablet devices such as the Acer Iconia W510 and Asus Vivotab.

The new Z3000 Bay Trail chips have a new architechture design and an integrated graphics chip based on that in Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, promising considerably better performance all round. Bay Trail is designed to be at the heart of next-generation smartphones, tablets, and low-end notebooks, as Intel attempts to increase its impact in an area of the market currently dominated by ARM based chips.

See also: Intel ships Haswell processors for tablets

The Z3700 series features four models each of which are equipped with quad-core processors and Intel HD graphics, while the Z3600 has two options with dual cores, primed for Google's Android OS.

Intel Bay Trail Atom Z3000 SoC

Intel claims that Bay Trail has twice the CPU speed of Clover Trail, and up to three times the graphics performance. The new designs are also proposed to be up to 40 percent faster than NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 ARM processor (the chip that powers HP’s Slatebook X2), and an impressive 60 percent faster than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (which powers smartphones such as the new Sony Xperia Z1 and is rumoured to be at the heart of the upcoming Nexus 5).

To achieve this the company has developed a new 22nm 'Silvermont' architecture, which features impressive processor and power-management systems. Perhaps the most important of these is the Out of Order Execution (OoOE) engine. Basically this circumvents slowdowns traditionally caused by CPUs waiting for data before being able to execute certain instructions. Instead of holding other instructions rigidly in a queue Silvermont  allows quick ones to be completed while the data for slower ones is located.

Silvermont core - Bay Trail - Atom Z3000

The new Atom design also intelligently manages the use of its cores to either improve CPU performance or power management. Intel claims that the Bay Trail chips can offer up to three times the perfomance or up to five times longer battery life of the equivalent Clovertrail chip.

Intel says that this CPU/GPU Power Sharing, allied with its Intel 'Burst Technology 2.0' resource management, can give devices significant advantages over the ARM based alternatives, with the company unveiling various benchmark figures to support its assertions. One notable example compared a Z3770 Bay Trail chip and an NVIDIA Tegra 3 (installed in a Microsoft Surface RT), with the Z3770 scoring over three times higher in a 3D gaming test. This could be significant for potential customers who might use their tablet or smartphone for graphically demanding first-person-shooter or driving games.  

Bay Trail also features Intel’s Display Power Saving Technology (DPST 6.0), which lowers the backlight of a screen while brightening the original image (as you would in Photoshop) to compensate. If the images are as good as Intel says then we can look forward to extended battery life on devices without the need to constantly turn down the screen brightness.

The HD Graphics architecture supports DX11 and the Open GL ES 3.0 graphics core - as used by Sony Experia Z, HTC One, and Samsung S4. Bay Trail also boasts a respectable range of media capabilities, with full HW Acceleration for video decoding in H.264, VC1, MPEG-4/H.263 and several others. Plus there’s also support for accelerated encoding in H.264 and a hybrid version for MPEG2.

Of course we’ll need to test the chips ourselves before we know for sure whether the performance figures ring true in the real world, but Bay Trail certainly seems to indicate that the company is very serious about tablets and smartphones. Intel has also announced plans to update its cores each year, in a similar fashion to the tick-tock style that has seen the evolution of Sandy bridge, Ivy bridge, and recently Haswell on the more powerful desktops and laptops. Next year it will release a 14nm core bearing the name Airmont, and the following year will reveal a new architecture at the 14nm scale.

ARM manufacturers will also be constantly advancing their designs, so Intel has its work cut out if it hopes to wrestle market share away from the likes of Qualcomm, NVIDIA and Apple. As always, time will tell, but for now the fact that an innovative giant like Intel is bringing its A-game to the mobile space can only be a good thing for customers. With  manufacturers battling it out to be the best on what is fast becoming the most important platform in technology, the next few years could be very interesting indeed.  

Table of new Bay Trail Atom processors:

 

Z3770

Z3770D

Z3740

Z3740D

Z3680

Z3680D

 

2.4GHz

2.4GHz

1.8GHz

1.8GHz

2GHz

2GHz

Cores

4

4

4

4

2

2

L2 Cache

2MB

2MB

2MB

2MB

1MB

1MB

Memory type

LPDDR3 1067 (dual channel)

DDR3L-RS 1333 (single channel)

LPDDR3 1067 (dual channel)

DDR3L- RS 1333 (single channel)

LPDDR3 1067 (single channel)

DDR3L- RS 1333 (single channel)

Memory capacity

4GB

2GB

4GB

2GB

1GB

2GB

Max display resolution

2560x1600

1920x1200

2560x1600

1920x1200

1280x800

1920x1200

Process

22nm

22nm

22nm

22nm

22nm

22nm