Eric Mantion

On MLK Day, All Men are Created Equal, But Clearly Not All Cores

I love working at Intel. I do, really. But, sometimes working here is similar to what it would be like to be Celebrity Couple Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez. Except, they get: “When are you going to get married?” “When are you going to get married?” “When are you going to get married?” and we get: “When are you getting into Smart Phones?” “When are you getting into Smart Phones?” “When are you getting into Smart Phones?”  Of course, the correct answer to both questions is always the same: “When the Time is Right!

 

Fortunately for us (and I am in no way trying to put pressure on Mr. Bieber & Ms. Gomez), the answer is shifting to “Soon, very, very soon!” Specifically, just in case you missed it, Intel released some very big news at CES. During his CES 2012 Keynote Address, our CEO Paul Otellini talked extensively about Intel in Smart Phones. Even more concretely, in the Intel Booth at CES, we were showing people not only are very polished Reference Design Platform (RDP), but also the Lenovo K800 phone which is slated to get release to the Chinese domestic market in the 2nd Quarter of this year. And, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I was very impressed by the Lenovo offering – I picked it up in my hand & it *felt* heavier than my current Android phone (the original Sprint Hero).

 

OK, so, pragmatically: Big Deal! I’m sure *some* folks out there (especially the more cynical folks) are thoroughly unimpressed by the news. Honestly, I can understand how some folks could just view this as big, bad Intel shoehorned their huge chip into a small package by buying their way into miracles. However, I can happily tell you to not take my word for how big this news really is. Instead, go read the article by Anand Lal Shimpi. I think people can say many things about Mr. Shimpi, but most would agree that he’s NOT a big Intel Fan Boy. Fortunately for us, most would also agree that Anand is a very thorough and honest person. From my own personally perspective, I’ve long admired his work, even when his findings weren’t particularly favorable to us – I think he has an untarnishable level of integrity – which makes his article all the more important.

 

To skip to the chase, look at these 2 charts from Anand:

 

Tie the 2 of them together & you (should) reach the conclusion that Intel is ahead in performance while being very competitive on power consumption. Let me say that part again since these words will take a while to sink-in for some folks:

The Intel Atom Z2460 is very competitive compared to ARM processors in power consumption

Now, for my fellow Geeks, the following logic train should be self-evident, but I’m going to step through it anyway so that everyone gets it… If you define “Efficiency” as “Work” (or performance) per Energy Used (similar to how Engine Efficiency is Miles Traveled per Gallons of Fuel Consumed), then let’s look at the 2 above values again. If we take “BrowserMark” to be a (relatively) measure of Performance (think “Miles”) and Power Consumption is akin to Energy Used in electrical paradigms, then dividing BrowserMark by Power Consumption should give us a reasonable estimation for “Processor Efficiency.” Taking the 3 platforms provided by Anand for both metrics, we can make the following Table:

 

Platform

BrowserMark

Power Consumption

Processor Efficiency

Intel Atom Z2460 RDP

    116,425  BM

1.0 W

172%

Apple iPhone 4S

      87,841  BM

1.3 W

100%

Samsung Galaxy S II

      55,144  BM

1.2 W

68%

Data Source: AnandTech.com (http://j.mp/AnandZ2460), January, 2012

(Processor Efficiency = BM ÷ W => normalized to iPhone = 100%)

 

That “popping sound” you are hearing is the sound of several long-term skeptics of Intel entering the Smart Phone market segment having their minds blown. The “crashing sound” you are hearing is the glass ceiling (floor?) being shattered in terms of how low can the power consumption be for Intel Processors. That silence you hear is all the droves of pundits that have assured the industry for years that “ARM is inherently more power efficient than Intel Processors” (if I had a nickel for every time I read that, I could buy an ASUS ZenBook) suddenly having to re-think their entire paradigms. For those that like sounds bites more than numbers & tables – let me summarize the above table for you:

 

Intel Processors CAN be More Energy Efficient than ARM-based Processors

 

Notice the word “can.” Specifically, in this case, comparing just 3 platforms & doing a particular task (web browsing), the numbers point to the Intel Atom Z2460 (1.6 GHz, single core) Reference Design Platform being 72% more power efficient than the 1.0 GHz, dual-core A5 processor-based iPhone 4S. To be clear, this does not mean that Intel Atom processors are more efficient all the time, doing every task, in any situation, including playing Angry Birds on Mars. This is not an absolute statement. But, neither is the statement: “ARM is always more power efficient than Intel Processors.” Clearly, that is a phase that no educated engineer or pundit should ever make again. Of course, it will be said again, for a while, because some paradigms (like stress causes ulcers <= it’s really bacteria that does) are hard to change or shift – even in the face of incontrovertibly evidence. Such is the nature of the human mind.

 

However, all change must stop somewhere. It may be a silversmith riding his horse through the night to alert the locals of an invasion. It may be a kindly old black woman that refuses to give up her seat on a bus. It may be a US Navy SEAL that literally holds up the ceiling of the Pentagon while others escape. But, at some point, some people will draw a line “this far, and no farther.” Change has to start someplace & I ask, on this day commemorating the life & vision of Martin Luther King Jr., that we start are own change. That we quest for the day, when are processors are judged by the content of their character (read: actual, real-world performance) and not the color (branding) of their skin (packaging).

 

EPOLOGUE – Why Do I Care?

 

I should close by explaining why someone who works in the Intelligent Systems (formerly called “Embedded”) Group cares about what happens in Cell Phones. The answer is quite simple – because it breaks paradigms that has long been plaguing this industry. About half a decade ago, when Apple announce it was changing from PowerPC in its Macs to instead using Intel – that was a huge boon to the Embedded market segment. For years, PowerPC & Intel processors would, usually, run on different operating systems, different systems, which made ever doing a (pardon the pun) “Apples-to-Apples” comparison difficult. When Apple shifted to Intel, that made it supremely easy to take two Mac systems, running the same operating system & nearly identical ancillary equipment and cleanly compare the performance differences between the two processors.

 

Now we face a similar watershed moment. From this point on, no engineering team should dismiss using an Intel-based solution because they just assume that the Standby Power will never be low enough. Or that Intel won’t be able to provide a processor with high-enough efficiency. Or any one of a number of different assumptions that I’ve heard over the nearly 7-yrs that I’ve been at this great company. From this point on, any design should be considered fair game for Intel. Whether it is a Smart Phone design from Lenovo, or some very cool robot offering from a university.

 

The next decade or so will be a wondrous time for intelligent systems, where things that you never thought could (or should) be smart, will suddenly become as clever as you need them to be. It could be a future swimming pool that intelligently uses underwater sensors to sound an alarm if it “hears” a large splash, but there’s no “Adult” (as determined by entering a Pin-Code) watching the pool. How great would the future be if you almost never heard another story of a child drowning in the pool in the back yard while the parent around was answering the front door. What if Parking Meters could just read the NFC of your phone to pay *AND* send you a text msg if time is running out so you could pay *remotely* without having to leave your important meeting on the 23rd floor. What if – well, I’ll leave it to you to add some more “What Ifs” in the comments below, but I think that with the amazing power efficiency demonstrated by the Intel Atom Z2460 processor at CES – the list of “What Ifs” that can be enhanced by Intel Processors just got an order of magnitude bigger. What do you think? Please leave comments in the boxes below or hit me on Twitter if you prefer: @Geek8ive

Eric Mantion

About Eric Mantion

Eric is a Software Community Strategist for Intel's Software & Services Group. You can find him online at: - www.Twitter.com/CaptGeek - www.Linkedin.com/in/ericmantion | Eric graduated from the US Naval Academy, with a bachelor of science in Physics. He has served on Nuclear Powered Submarines and was attached to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE. He has worked in the Semiconductor Industry for over 10 years and has held positions as a Product Marketing Engineer, a Senior Industry Analyst, a Senior Competitive Intelligence Analyst, and a Technology Evangelist. In whatever spare time he has, Eric loves spending with his family, working out, tinkering with computers, dabbling with Linux, exploring Android, and playing video games (especially StarCraft II & DOTA 2)

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