CHIPMAKER Intel held a benchmarking event in London on Tuesday where we got our hands on some 10in tablet reference designs to put the firm's latest mobile chip, the Atom Z3700, or perhaps as it is better known, Bay Trail, to the test.
Unveiled at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco last month, Intel's latest 22nm Atom update includes Z3600 and Z3700 series chips and aims to improve tablet performance to up to twice that of Intel's previous Clover Trail Atom chips.
Supporting the Windows and Android operating systems, the Atom Z3700 series chips are powered by four cores running at up to 2.4GHz, with 2MB of L2 cache and integrated HD graphics. Depending on the configurations chosen, the chips offer dual or single channel DDR3 memory supporting memory capacity up to 4GB.
Intel's previous lineup of Atom mobile chips, Clover Trail+ was announced in February this year in a batch of three dual-core chips sporting clock speeds of up to 2GHz, with hyper-threading allowing four threads to run concurrently.
In our benchmarking session we put an Atom Z3770 chip to the test. This chip is powered by four cores running at up to 2.4GHz and was running on an Intel reference design 10.1in tablet with 2GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics supporting 2560x1440 display resolution and eMMC flash memory.
Pitting the Bay Trail Windows 8.1 tablet against several different benchmarking tools and playing a couple of modern video games, we ran it alongside and thus compared it to a Clover Trail powered Acer W510 10in tablet that was running Windows 8 so we could see the performance differences between the two chips.
The first game tested on both devices was the PC tower defense title Defense Grid. There were obvious differences in game play between the two tablets, with the Clover Trail device having a very jumpy and generally unresponsive nature. Visual effects were stunted by the chip not being able to perform to the standard needed to run the game smoothly, and touching the screen to operate commands meant a substantial delay in response.
However, the Bay Trail powered tablet powered the game very well, with special effects such as gunshot flashes being generated in succession very smoothly and quickly, like you'd expect on a desktop PC, with no lag. Watching the two devices run this game side by side at the same time, it was immediately apparent that the Bay Trail chip brings some much needed performance improvements to mobile devices.
The Bay Trail tablet also demonstrated better visual quality in the games it was running compared to the Clover Trail tablet. When having a short play on action role playing the game Torchlight, special effects such as falling snow flakes were rendered with higher detail than on the Clover trail device, appearing more dynamic with greater colour reproduction and depth of field. This was because the Bay Trail chip, unlike Clover Trail, has integrated Intel HD graphics, a graphics engine similar to that seen in the Intel Ivy Bridge line of processors, which is focused on visuals and richer 3D for tablets.
We also had a chance to play the Batman: The Dark Knight video game on Bay Trail, and were instantly impressed by the fluidity of the title on the tablet, with costumes and environments rendered with a much higher quality than we have seen on a tablet before, especially with this level of responsiveness and natural feel. Testing this collection of gaming titles on Intel's Bay Trail was the first time that we've been willing to take tablet gaming seriously.
Because Intel's Bay Trail reference tablet wasn't the most stable device that we could have hoped for, many of the benchmarks we pushed it to run failed due to not supporting certain codecs that were required to power some of the tools we wanted to test. Peacekeeper, for instance was an example of one of the benchmarking tools that failed, giving a score of 413 on the Clover Trail tablet, but refusing to complete on the Bay Trail tablet.
However, we did manage to run it across a few of the more popular benchmarking tests such as Sunspider, which calculates scores where lower is better, and exhibited a score of 705 on Clover Trail and 327 on Bay Trail, a performance improvement of more than double.
Due to the lack in support for the usual Windows graphics benchmarks, we weren't able to run tests such as 3D Mark's Ice Storm ourselves and instead, Intel had already run these for us. According to the chipmaker, the Clover Trail tablet earned a score of 2,445 at a resolution of 1,360x766, and the Bay Trail reference tablet scored a much higher 16,079 at the same resolution. However, to prove Intel's findings we will have to perform this test ourselves later when we get a tablet in for review.
The lesser known WebXPRT Windows browser benchmark - which ran various tablet features such as photo effects, offline notes and face detection on photographs over and over to test the tablet's processor - also delivered nearly double the performance increase between Clover Trail and Bay Trail, with the former scoring a result of 201 +/- 4 and the latter 375 +/- 5. In this test a higher score was better.
We weren't at Intel's benchmarking session long enough to examine the Bay Trail tablet's battery life against that of a Clover Trail tablet, but if the power duration matches the performance we saw today, we can imagine it will be a great improvement over Intel's last generation of tablet chips.
Intel hasn't revealed when Bay Trail chips will reach OEM devices, but we suspect they will be on shop shelves in time for Christmas. µ