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Sep 9, 2014

Intel Core m, the Mobile Processor That Should Have Been Launched Two Years Ago

Barely more than a week of this month has passed, and Intel has already released some really impressive products, some of which are guaranteed to preserve its strong brand, and one that may finally allow it to beat ARM on its own turf.

It is that last one that I am going to take a look at now. Or, rather, the implications of its release, since it is the sort of windfall that Intel has been seeking for years. Potential windfall, at least. You see, Intel has finally launched a processor that could actually fight the various ARM-based chips on the mobile market evenly. The first mobile chip to bear the Core-series brand, the new processor might finally have what it takes to give Intel an actual foothold in the smartphone industry. Its immediate competitors are Samsung's Exynos line and Qualcomm's Snapdragon series, both based on the ARM architecture, with the best using Cortex A15 cores, plus one or more A7 cores for when the system is doing light loads.

The assets of the Core m processor

I won't bore you with the specifications, since there's a whole article dedicated to them. We covered the Intel chip as soon as it came out after all. Now, admittedly, the Intel Core m CPU is intended for 2 in 1 devices (laptop-tablet hybrids) and tablets, but phones aren't beyond Intel's purview anymore either. At least, not the best “superphones” anyhow. The chip is based on the 14nm  Broadwell architecture which will only reach PCs in 2015. You could say that Chipzilla accelerated the development of its next-generation architecture just so it could bring out a good mobile processor at last. Besides, even if consumer phones stick to ARM (despite x86 also supporting Android OS), specialist PDA and other devices may very well prefer the extra horsepower of Core m.

There are three versions of the processor: Core M-5Y70 (1.1 GHz dual-core CPU with a max turbo speed of 2.6 GHz), Core M-5Y10a 800 MHz (dual-core CPU with max turbo speed of 2 GHz) and Core M-5Y10 800 MHz (dual-core CPU with max turbo speed of 2 GHz).

The irony

This chip is guaranteed to increase the share of x86 based tablets at the expense of ARM. The only thing that could possibly work against it is advertising, and Intel has never had problems there. The only “sad” thing about the chip is how long it took to come to market. Intel would have probably been a major force on the mobile front already if it created a chip like this one or two years ago. And we can't exactly lay the blame completely at the feet of manufacturing technology (32 nm, then 22 nm and, now, finally 14 nm). Alas, it was only able to produce Atom units instead, which had performance but none of the graphics and efficiency of alternatives from Samsung, Qualcomm and NVIDIA. What remains to be seen is how the Core m compares to NVIDIA's Tegra K1. Intel rather blatantly avoided all mention of NVIDIA's SoC during its IFA keynote and the time since, so I'm looking forward to the showdown. Especially after Tegra K1 so thoroughly trounced Bay Trail in Chromebook tests.

Intel 14nm Core m CPU
Image credits to Intel


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