Previously, I reported on Intel’s low power, 14nm Core M mobile processor, formerly known by its architecture code name, “Broadwell.” I came away impressed with my first look at what Intel has done both at the silicon and platform architecture level. In a nutshell, Intel has succeeded at taking their previous generation notebook architecture, and while beefing up graphics processing, compute and cache resources, along with a few other tweaks, they’ve brought power consumption down to the 4.5 Watt range, which makes it suitable for fanless devices like 2-in-1 hybrid convertible notebooks and tablets.
So with what was essentially a notebook-class processor architecture, Intel’s Core M will now be competing on a much more hyper-mobile device playing field, the massive tablet and convertible market arena, where Intel has yet to make significant impact. Tempering my effervescence on Core M, there’s no question Intel is late to the party and their previous delays on Broadwell have cost the company dearly with a reported nearly $1 Billion loss chalked up by the Mobile group, which includes Atom-based products as well of course. Regardless, Intel’s 14nm process is now in volume production, and though Core M products will trickle out in Q4, with a wave of devices promised early next year, we’re actually now just getting some real hands-on time with Broadwell-based 2-in-1 devices – and dare I say, the preliminary benchmark numbers are looking great.
Though we’ve heard of specific hybrid devices forthcoming from major manufacturers like Dell , Lenovo and ASUS, yesterday, I got some back room time with Intel’s Llama Mountain reference platform for Core M. I was able to run some quick and dirty benchmarks on the device. To be clear, Llama Mountain is a 2-in1 hybrid tablet / notebook device with a larger 12.5-inch tablet footprint and thus more thermal headroom available. However, the device I looked at was extremely light, easily iPad Air weight-class and very thin as well, at a little over 8mm. More importantly, the performance results it put out in a few benchmark metrics were impressive.
Specifically, the Core M Y50-powered device took to Cinebench in multithreaded 3D rendering workloads and scored in line with Intel’s various Core i5 mobile CPUs, again that typically take residence in full-sized notebooks. From there, with respect to graphics, it absolutely ripped up 3DMark with Ice Storm Unlimited with scores in the 45 – 50K range, which leave some of the fastest tablet SoCs on the market, like NVIDIA’s Tegra K1, in the dust.
To be fair, Tegra K1 is currently addressing tablet and device offerings as low as $279, like Chromebooks and the 8-inch SHIELD Tablet. I don’t think we’ll ever see a $300-range Core M device, though it’s possible we’ll see devices approaching the $500 – $600 range some time in 2015. Initial product offerings in Q4 will no doubt drop in around $799 or higher. So it’s not an “apples-to-apples” sort of comparison to draw here but regardless, with a power envelope of 4.5 Watts, it’s an appropriate yardstick.
Core M is looking impressive for Intel to be sure but the company has to execute on ramping to high volume production and tweaking the architecture for even more thermal headroom, so that it can compete in even smaller, lower cost devices. In addition, it will be important for Intel to continue to foster Android on X86 development to expand their market potential for Core M, beyond just Windows devices. That said, frankly, I don’t have any insight on Intel’s Core M efforts with Android; only Atom-based designs have appeared in market thus far.
Core M is looking strong so far and it will be interesting to see what the chip can do when we get full production release device in from OEMs in Q4.