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May 6, 2012

Intel’s Third Embarrassment of the Last Decade - Chapter II

With the Cortex A15 design, ARM has managed to find the holy grail of CPU design. This is something many seem to have not noticed during this pring.

Sure we were bussy with Kepler's launch, AMD's Trinity leaks and Ivy Bridge, but none of these launches or expectations are as impressive as ARM's Cortex A15 design is.

With the A15, ARM managed to achive three major goals of any CPU design team : a consecutive architecture (a) doubles the performance of the previous design while (b) consuming less power and actually (c) doubling the single threaded performance (IPC) rather than adding parallel processing power.

Intel, AMD nor IBM have ever managed a feat just like this. ARM managed to find and requisition three "holy grails" if we may say so.

None of the other CPU designers ever managed to achieve such a feat, let alone there at the same time.

ARM and its licensees are not even trying to squeeze out the most of their A15 architecture.

The A15 dual core CPUs can perfectly run at 2,5 GHz and quad core part can also be manufactured in the same 28 nm technology at the same speeds.

Intel's Medfield is currently the best phone chip it has to offer. The established smartphone players have to think about battery life also. In a tablet, an 2,5 GHz dual core Cortex A15 CPU will most certainly trounce Intel’s Clover Field.

Moreover, we have to take into account the fact that the A15 is two years old technology. Yes, the ARM Cortex A15 architecture was first made available by ARM two years ago, back in 2010 and, if we consider the fact that A15 was presented only three years after the A9, we may expect an even more advanced ARM architecture in the next one or two years.

Moreover, as you can see from the previous picture, back in 2010 ARM expected the Cortex A15 to become available in late 2012/ early 2013. They are practically well ahead of their own schedule expectations.

By that time, that hypothetical Cortex A25 will be made in 20 nm technology or smaller and, even with an IPC improvement of only 50% , not the 100% we see in today’s A15, would be able to beat any 2,5 GHz Clover Field, most likely built in 22 nm tech.

The nails in Atom’s coffin that ARM’s A15 and Samsung’s own A9 and A15 custom implementations are beating are so painful for Intel right now that the company appears to have started a delirium.

Intel seems to be babbling about The Matrix and the Star Trek’s Borg while showing, whitepaper characterized, science-fiction essays.

While you can’t characterize an essay as a science fiction novel nor can you characterize an essay on somebody’s favorite SF movies as a company whitepaper.

They’re likely in the state of doing everything to get the people’s mind away from the fact that their apparent success from two weeks ago is now something worthless considering that Samsung and Apple get 99 % of the smartphone market profits and Intel’s not invited.

Don't get us wrong, Intel's Medfield is a high performing smartphone chip that's competing for the profits of the smartphone market. Intel's problem is the fact that the best they can offer is inferior to what the competition has on the table already.

Since both, Samsung and Apple use ARM processors and Intel's product is inferiour, how can Intel hope to get a piece of the 1% smartphone pie that's left when the Cupertino giant and the Korean behemoth are done eating?

Since the Atom “scam” is Intel’s 2008 project, we consider this to be one of Intel’s three major embarrassing developments of the last decade.

Out of those three, Atom is responsible for two of them, but before that, be sure to check out the first chapter of our "Intel’s Third Embarrassment of the Last Decade" story.

More on Intel’s battle for profit against the customer’s benefit, in our next analysis coming in the following weeks.

First Single Slot GeForce GTX 670 Pictured

It appears that Nvidia has imposed little design limitations to its partners when it comes to the design of the GeForce GTX 680 and GeForce GTX 670 cards. Galaxy’s custom GeForce GTX 670 reportedly got the digital camera treatment and pictures.

The situation is much different with the GeForce GTX 690 dual GPU cards. There, Nvidia doesn’t seem to allow the partners to modify the reference design.

The design of the single slot Galaxy GeForce GTX 670 video card is similar to Galaxy’s previously spotted single slot GTX 600 series card. We’re talking about the first single slot GTX 680 card ever pictured.

The length of the PCB seems to be just 65% of the length of the reference design. The apparent length of the card is maintained by the fact that the cooler is prolonged at the back of the card.

The card if fueled by two 6-pin PCIe power connectors.

On the backside there are only three output connectors : a dual-link DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort.

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Intel’s Third Embarrassment of the Last Decade - Chapter I

If anybody remembers Intel’s Atom launch, you’ll also remember how the company hoped that their chips will end up in everything from vacuum cleaners to fridges, cars and phones. With Intel’s “bribe” funds, incomparable R & D funds and unending monopoly of the x86 computing world, this was probably the only domain where everybody “knew” the giant won’t be able to succeed in if they keep on holding to the x86 ISA. The Medfield launch two weeks ago was a total success and we were all surprised.

The x86 ISA has so much overhead that everybody thought and often stated that there will never be an x86 CPU cool enough to be used on large scale in phones.

The CPU giant bragged about powering phones with x86 CPUs on yearly basis and everybody was quite used to see reality prove them wrong every time.

So imagine the surprise on everybody’s face when Medfield proved to be exactly what Intel promised it to be and even better. Don’t get me wrong, the expectation were that Medfield would fail. 

Most believed it would power a smartphone with the lowest battery life among the rest of the smartphones and that the performance would be incomparable with its ARM counterparts.

The thing is that, even if the battery life manifested by a Medfield powered phone was only average, it was average among the best of the smartphones out there. Rolling around with the best from the first product is quite an achievement for Intel.

The performance was expected to be especially low as x86 has a lot of legacy overhead and most phone software is build and optimized for ARM. 

Seeing Intel’s coolest Atom processor ace some benchmarks and give a decent showing in other was amazing.

We even started thinking that if they’ve cracked into the phone market, in the next decade we would see Intel’s funds “working” the “free” market and many players in the phone market heading towards a “better” place. 

Our future was set to be one where Intel’s mobile CPUs had no real competition and were costing 300 dollars a piece in 1500 dollars smarterphones.

The surprise of Medfield’s performance was so great that most of us never got a chance to lean back few days and see the big picture.

As life beats the movies, we were handed the end of the plot just a week later once Samsung’s powerful Galaxy S3 launched after the perfectly designed and superlative HTC One XL (AT & T Qualcomm version).

The reality was that Intel’s Medfield flagship, as shown in Anand’s exquisite review of Intel’s first foray into the phone market, was battling phones and platforms that were quite old in the market and some were on their way out.

Sure the ultra optimized Atom, using absolutely the best bulk 32 nm manufacturing process available today (coming from Intel’s own FABs) , was able to hang out with last year’s 45/40 nm ARM processors.

But this was Intel’s best Atom development put against ARM’s Cortex A9 architecture launched almost six years ago, back in 2007.

Intel practically had a chance to look at ARM’s 2007 Cortex A9, even license it if they’d wanted, and then, in 2008 launch their own low power design named Atom.

We’re not trying for a single fraction of a second to suggest Intel took anything from ARM’s A9. If it would have, it would have made Atom better than the “complete scam” it was at the time.

With that put aside, we must mention that Intel was and still is an ARM licensee and that they’ve even had their own ARM division called Xscale that was later sold to Marvell.

The reason Intel stopped its own successful ARM development and sold its division to Marvell we’ll reveal in our next Intel Atom related analysis.

Being able to mingle with the 5 year old Cortex A9 champs and taking some surprising swings using your 32 nm gloves and somebody’s else GPU was quite an achievement for Intel.

Unfortunately for the American/Israeli company called Intel, the party lasted only one week.

This last week, ARM’s A15 stepped into the ring. 

It was dressed as the HTC One XL knight and the role fit perfectly. Built in a 28 nm bulk process, Qualcomm’s Krait is one step ahead of Intel’s Medfield where FABbing is concerned.

This is reality and is actually the opposite of what Wikipedia’s “Atom (system on chip)” entry says about Medfield :

“Even though the architecture by its own most likely still is a bit less power efficient than ARMs designs, the advantage Intel has is their own manufacturing capabilities which makes it possible to stay one step ahead in semiconductor technology, currently using a 32 nm High-K/metal gate process whereas most competitors SoCs as of Q1 2012 are built with a 40/45 nm process by for example TSMC.”

Is that so? Not really! 

As we can easily see, even Intel’s Clover Trail is still built in 32 nm. Clover Trail is a bit faster on the frequency side as it works at 1800 MHz compared with Medfield’s 1600 MHz and brings a doubled GPU (don’t worry, this GPU is not Intel’s merit either).

ARM’s A15 on the other hand is built using TSMC’s 28 nm process and TSMC is investing heavily into doubling its 28 nm capacity and even in speeding up the 20 nm process.

Intel’s next Atom will consume even more power than the current one. It’s even targeted for bigger devices such as tablets.

So, looking at Clover Trail like looking at a mobster with a bigger gun (to be read GPU) is not going to save Intel from the smartphone disaster they’ll experience because of A15.

One thing’s for certain, even if Medfield is able to swing with Tegra 3 and dual core A9 CPUs, it can only hope to receive just 1% of the smarphone profits this next year.

More on what the Cortex A15 and ARM means for Intel’s ill fated attempt to take ever the mobile phone market in the following chapter.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M Now in Eurocom PCs

Since NVIDIA's new graphics processors are running all over the place, Eurocom figured it may as well use one of them in its Racer 2.0 laptop. 

The Racer 2.0 is one of the Eurocom laptops that have been receiving maintenance the most lately, as its maker has been experimenting with hardware and such. 

Not long ago, it got the AMD Radeon HD 7970M and, now, it can be configured with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M. 

For those who don't remember, the discrete GPU has 384 CUDA cores, a clock speed of 835 MHz and a texture fill rate of 30.4 billion per second. 

2 GB of GDDR5 VRAm are present, on a 128-bit memory interface, a 2,000 MHz memory clock and a 64.0 GB/s memory bandwidth. 

“NVIDIA's Geforce GTX 660M will offer extreme professional capability, gaming and CUDA development performance for our customers,” explains Mark Bialic, president of Eurocom. 

“With 384 CUDA cores the GeForce 660M is ideal for Gamers, Professionals and CUDA development which enables the GPU to solve complex computational problems in business and technical applications for utilization within the Eurocom notebook line.” 

The Eurocom Racer 2.0, with the discrete card in place, supports OpenGL 4.1, 3D Vision, CUDA, DirectX 11, PhysX, Optimus, OpenCL and DirectCompute. HDMI, VGA and digital display ports are present, complete with HDCP support. 

As for the rest, the 15.6-inch machine gets a 22nm Ivy Bridge central processing unit, up to 32 GB of DDR3 RAM (random access memory), full connectivity and I/O, etc. 

All in all, this is a powerful mobile workstation. Eurocom even published some benchmarking results, and they are none too shabby. The GTX 660M may not be the greatest 600M series chip, but it does well enough under fire. Follow this link here  if you want to take a look at those scores.

Details on Nokia Drive 3.0 and Nokia Transport 2.0 Emerge

Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia is moving closer to the release of two new applications for its Windows Phone devices, namely Nokia Drive 3.0 and Nokia Transport 2.0. 

The company has already offered a preview of the new flavor of Nokia Drive at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, but hasn’t yet provided a specific release date for it. 

However, the guys over at WP7Forum.ru have discovered additional details on the application, and have also come up with a series of screenshots of it in action. 

One of the main new features that we should expect to make it inside Nokia Drive 3.0 would be its capability to learn driving habits based on user’s own “style,” thus becoming more efficient and personal. 

Additionally, the software will arrive with real-time tracking of travel and density of traffic movements, and will deliver such info via a live tile. 

Other features include automatic determination of time of day, along with the change of color scheme cards accordingly. It will also offer the option to manually adjust routes, and will come with off-line favorite lists, providing the possibility to fix tiles on the desktop.

When it comes to Nokia Transport 2.0 app, said Russian forum unveiled the fact that it would enable users to search for public transport using their location, and that it would deliver info on nearby transportation: buses, trains, trams, subways, taxis, marked stops. 

Other features include the displaying of routes with transfers, support for scheduling in 87 countries around the world, and fast access to Favorites. 

The software also comes with advanced search, the options to save query history or to change the query without a new route, as well as with faster search and installation of the route and with a series of optimizations brought to its overall performance. 

As WMPoweruser notes, details on when the updated application versions will arrive on Nokia’s Windows Phone devices should emerge in a matter of weeks, so stay tuned for more on the matter.

AMD Trinity Architectural Preview - Part IV

Besides an enhanced IPC and generally, a more capable x86 core architecture, AMD is shooting for higher frequency on the desktop side and less power consumption in the mobile area. But all these don’t mean that AMD sees any advantage in a low yield 4.5 GHz part on 28 nm SOI rather than having a high yield 3.8 GHz APU on the bulk process.

We’ve found out earlier this year, straight from the mouth of AMD’s Senior VP and CFO Thomas Seifert, under the guidance of newly appointed CEO Rory Read, that AMD will use bulk process for the 28 nm manufacturing step.

“So with respect to SOI (Silicon On Insulator), we made statements that on 28-nanometer, all of our products will be bulk,” said Mr. Seifert during the conference call regarding the Wafer Supply Agreement (WSA) amendment covering 2012.

“We said that at the 28nm node we are going to be on bulk silicon across all products, not only graphics but also CPUs. And we have made no statement beyond that. But for 28 we will be on bulk for all products,” he added.

This is a surprising piece of information coming from a company that has based all their designs on the SOI concept since way back in 2003.

SOI reduces leakage, power consumption and increases the achievable clock frequency. Why would AMD give up on SOI right now? Well, there are many arguments in the favor of such a move.

First of all would be the fact that AMD was historically a very slow moving company and Rory Read wants that to change.

He comes from a fast moving field such as the PC and laptop market at Lenovo and there, if you happen to have an unsuccessful product, you don’t really have to stay behind your competition too much. 

You simply develop a faster product with whatever components you’re dealing with. This is what Mr. Read seems to want to impose at AMD.

Enough with the long development cycles, enough with the late tape-outs and yield worries. AMD doesn’t have its own FABs anymore, so they can go to whatever foundry the like. 

This improves the manufacturing cost scenario quite a bit as, if GlobalFoundries has process and yield problems, AMD can easily go to another foundry.

If one FAB wants to charge them too much, AMD will bid for another’s FAB manufacturing capacities.

When designing a complex architecture such as a new CPU or GPU, you definitely must tailor your design for the foundry you’re in a contract with.

Moreover, if you’re using SOI technology, you must pay IBM to use SOI and then go to a foundry that has an SOI process available and also you must use SOI wafers. When the FABs belonged to AMD, all these conditions were met by its own FABs as it was AMD’s decision which way to go.

Now that AMD doesn’t own any FAB, if they built SOI chips, they’d have to limit themselves to SOI FABs.

Since AMD is already using bulk process at TSMC for their Brazos platform, they’ve seen how advantageous it is to have a design for bulk silicon. If one Fab increases the price, you can take your design to another FAB.

AMD is unhappy they couldn’t do this with their Llano CPUs also. These were made at GlobalFoundries using their SOI 32nm technology. SOI did indeed help as these were much bigger CPUs than AMD’s Zacate and they were running at much higher frequencies than the Brazos chips.

Sure the Brazos family was made and still is made in TSMC’s bulk 40 nm process, but AMD sees in this the advantage of not being “SOI only”. That’s exactly why they’re going for bulk 28 nm production at GlobalFoundires.

They want to be able to switch foundries if ever necessary and also have TSMC as backup if a higher quantity is needed. Llano and Brazos were very successful. They’ve represented the fastest CPU ramp in the company’s history.

We believe AMD’s Trinity will double the success of Llano. AMD knows this and also knows it needs volume. If the new Trinity design is based on the bulk process, or if they have a 32 nm SOI Trinity version and a 28 nm bulk version, AMD will have TSMC as backup if higher quantity is needed.

That is a big “if”. Logically, AMD should not have two different designs for the Trinity architecture; at least not this early. Normally, the 28nm product should already be Trinity’s successor.

Rory Read made it clear that the move toward the bulk process is only a single step and it is happening now because most APUs sell in very big volumes and AMD needs to make them as cheap as possible and, if needed, they’ll use two different foundries for more capacity.

Beyond 28 nm, GlobalFoundries will keep developing on SOI technology and the 28 nm bulk process is actually an advantage for them as most clients do not design chips for SOI and don’t even need such high frequencies.

AMD will also explore SOI again once they get to a new architecture that would probably benefit from the increased frequency and decreased power consumption that SOI offers and won’t need such high volumes. An example of such an occasion from AMD is the next “Steamroller” based desktop and server CPUs.

For now, Trinity is still 32 nm SOI, just like the succesful Llano. 

Only by applying new technologies like Cyclos' clock mesh along with a more mature 32 nm design, AMD managed to get an almost 31% frequency improvement for the new APU.

Moreover, you can get more out of basically the same architecture by developing new and highly applicable features. 

This is exactly what AMD does with Brazos 2.0. The APU is built on the same 40 nm process , albeit in a more mature stage, but the platform will appeal to the customers by the means of adding clear practical features to benefit the user.

Considering that the 10% more performance they get from moving to the Piledriver architecture is not that impressive and that the frequency increase only yields in less than 25% performance improvement, AMD added lots of new features to Trinity so that the new APU will uniquely appeal to the future customers.

More on Trinity's new features in Part V of our AMD Trinity Architectural Preview.

Watercool eK Presents Heatkiller GPU-X3 for GTX 680

German company Watercool eK has just launched the new HEATKILLER GPU-X, on its official website. This is a very good water cooling block that takes care of the GPU, but it also handles the heat from the memory chips.

The water block is made of high-purity electrolytic copper and stainless steel. The terminal block is made of quality POM.

In addition to the graphics processor and the memory chips, cooling is provided for the voltage regulators.

The internal water channels are specially designed to keep the flow resistance very low. Large internal water channels also lead to a lower weight of the water block.

The user will also receive thermal pads that are pre-cut to fit their specific location.

The total weight is almost 1 kg and the design is specifically developed to fit Nvidia’s reference PCB. That’s around 2.2 pounds in imperial.

Pricing stands at 130 USD and deliveries will start on May 7th 2012.

This means almost 99 EUR for the European customers and we hope the company will not overcharge them like non-European companies always do.

GTX 680 Clocked at 1,442 MHz on Air Cooling

NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680 is already a beast of a board, but there will never be a shortage of people eager to push it towards and over its limits. 

This time around, k|ngp|n showed just how far the card can go while using air cooling. 

He previously overclocked the product to 1,957MHz, but he had to use rather extreme cooling measures. 

On this occasion, though, he worked under tighter limitations but he still somehow drove the GPU from 1,058 MHz to 1,442 MHz

The PC used for the test had an Intel Core i7-3960X (overclocked at just under 5 GHz) and 16 GB RAM (2,490 MHz). Upon running the 3DMark 11 test, the score was P12745. 

The screenshot shows the voltage limit of 1.212V being fully exploited. The GDDR5 VRAM ran at 1812MHz (or 3623MHz effective).

Intel-Powered “Orange Santa Clara” Android Phone Coming Soon in the UK

The first Intel-Medfield Android smartphone has been recently launched on the market. Lava Xolo X900 is now available for purchase in India.

However, Intel and Orange have teamed up to offer customers another device powered by an Intel processor, which goes by the name of Santa Clara.

Orange Santa Clara is now listed on the carrier’s site, but no details on its availability or pricing options are known for the moment.

The smartphone runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread platform and packs an Intel Atom single core processor clocked at 1.6 GHz. 

Santa Clara sports a large 4.03-inch capacitive touchscreen display and embeds 16GB of internal memory, as well as an impressive 8-megapixel rear camera.

According to Orange UK, there is no specific release date or pricing details. Moreover, the carrier notes that “Santa Clara is the pre-launch name, the full name will be announced at launch.”

Two Foxconn Nano PCs Spotted

Foxconn will soon launch a couple of barebone PCs called “Nano PCs” and priced at under $200 / 152 Euro.

They are called AT-5300 and AT-5600 and use Intel and AMD processors, respectively.

To be more precise, the former utilizes the Atom D2700, while the latter has an AMD E-450 “Brazos” APU (accelerated processing unit).

Other than that, though, they are pretty similar, measuring 190 x 135 x 38 mm (7.67 x 5.31 x 1.49 inches) and sharing the same hardware configuration.

While no memory and storage is pre-installed, 4 GB RAM and a 2.5-inch SSD can be added later.

Connectivity and I/O are all covered though: two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a multi-card reader, Gigabit LAN, HDMI, D-Sub and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

All this runs on 24W and without any fans for cooling. We'll keep an eye out for prices.

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