Intel’s Clover Trail tested: It beats most ARM-based chips… most of the time

Windows 8 tablets with low-power Intel Atom Z2760 Clover Trail processors are starting to hit the streets. You can pick up an Acer Iconia Tab W510 for $550 or a Samsung Ativ Smart PC for $600, and HP and Lenovo plan to launch Clover Trail-based tablets in the coming weeks.

Unlike Windows RT tablets with ARM-based processors, these devices can run all Windows apps, including new full-screen apps from the Windows Store and legacy apps such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office 2010, and classic Windows games.

But aside from support for legacy apps, how does a Clover Trail tablet stack up against one with an NVIDIA Tegra 3 or similar processor? The folks at AnandTech did their best to answer that question.

Intel Atom Clover Trail comparison

Source: AnandTech

Here’s the short version: the Atom Z2760 chip is pretty slow by modern x86 processor standards. But when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks it’s faster than nearly every ARM-based processor on the market.

The one exception is the Samsung Exynos 5250 ARM Cortex-A15 processor which outperforms the Clover Trail chip in some areas.

On the other hand, while tablets like the Acer Iconia Tab W510 offer decent graphics performance with support for HD video playback and hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, modern ARM-based chips generally run circles around Intel’s system-on-a-chip when it comes to graphics performance.

The iPad 2 offers faster graphics, not to mention the 3rd and 4th generation iPads. NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 chip (you know, the one that’s in the $199 Google Nexus 7 tablet) is noticeably faster.

In other words, there are two reasons to choose a Clover Trail tablet over an ARM-based model. First, it can run legacy Windows apps. And second, in terms of raw processing power, it’s faster than an ARM-based device.

But in terms of graphics, an ARM-based tablet might have a bit of an edge, which could make it feel faster if you’re not performing CPU-intensive tasks.

And if you are trying to run Photoshop or edit huge Excel spreadsheets or perform other activities which are going to strain the processor… you’re probably not going to be thrilled with Atom performance anyway.

It’s pretty impressive that you can do those things on a device that’s about the size and shape of an iPad and which offers battery life approaching that of Apple’s tablet. But Clover Trail chips aren’t nearly as fast as  a low-end Core i3 processor.

That’s always been the trouble with Atom chips. When Intel introduced the first Atom processors in 2008, the netbooks using those processors were good enough for basic computing tasks. But they felt incredibly sluggish compared with more expensive computers.

The difference is that there is generally a big price difference between a netbook and a more powerful computer. When netbooks hit the streets, they sold for around $400, and today you can still find models for $200 to $300. But Clover Trail tablets have prices starting at $550, which means you can get a significantly more powerful Intel Core i3 or Core i5-powered notebook for less than the price of an entry-level tablet.

Unfortunately those notebooks won’t be as small or light and may not feature touchscreen displays. There are always trade-offs to make.

  • CyberGusa

    You may be able to get a significantly more powerful Core i-Series laptop for the same price as a Clover Trail tablet but Core i-Series tablets will similarly have higher pricing and will generally be higher priced than the Clover Trail tablets, albeit not always by the large margins as we have been used to between netbooks and laptops.

    So it should be remembered that tablets are generally going to be higher priced than equivalent laptops.

    However, like with most mobile devices, the trade off is greater mobility as tablets are easier to use on the go than laptops. While demands on performance are usually less because the things you do on the go usually won’t require that much performance but there are exceptions and that’s where higher performance tablets may appeal the most and find their market niche.

    Overall, I’d downplay the graphical advantage for ARM a bit because not all ARM devices are in that range of performance and this will mainly apply to gaming, which is still developing for mobile devices with most options limited to casual type gaming.

    This can easily change next year as the graphical performance of next gen devices start being taken advantage of, along with emerging alternative gaming solutions, but by then the enhanced Clover Trail+ with the dual SGX544MP2 should give a nice performance bump for Clover Trail graphical performance and maybe before the end of the year we should start seeing the next gen ATOMs come out.

    Though Tegra 4’s will be coming out next year as well and we’ll have to see if they blow away all the other competition or not.

    Meanwhile, Clover Trail systems can handle full HD video just fine and because of hardware encoding capability you can even do some 720P video editing. While some performance gains may be seen if they improve the drivers, which are still not fully optimized and need to be 64bit to press the full x86 advantage… It’ll probably be another 2 years before ARM applies full 64bit solutions into consumer products.

    The ability to handle Blu Ray may also come in handy for those looking for a more power efficient HTPC option, since you can’t do that with Android or iOS.

  • Mark

    I’d pay a premium for a 6″-7″ Clover Trail tablet. I’d probably pay even more for such a tablet if it used an Atom chipset that has fully working Linux drivers and there was a touch friendly Linux distro. Hopefully battery life isn’t too bad on such a small device. Maybe the smaller screen will even save some watts.

    For anything larger than that, I just expect more performance, CPU wise. I don’t really care much about graphics performance beyond stability, UI acceleration and robust h.264 video acceleration.

    • CyberGusa

      I’d wait for the next gen 22nm Valley View ATOMs, the Silvermont ATOM cores will have an updated architecture and up to 4 cores, they’ll be introducing technology originally developed for Ivy Bridge like the Tri-Gate Transistors, and the GMA will be updated to one based on the Ivy Bridge HD 4000 but just scaled down from 16 execution units to 4. Along with other improvement like support for up to 8GB of RAM, dual channel memory option, etc.

      The main thing is though that besides the performance improvements, it’ll have full Linux support as the only reason Clover Trail really excludes Linux is because Imagination has never really supported Linux and the present GMA is based on the Imagination PowerVR GPU.

      Note this was never the case with previous ATOMs based on Intel’s own GMA, and there are already Linux drivers for Ivy Bridge Core i-Series chips.

      They’re suppose to start coming out in the second half of 2013, with some coming out in early 2014. Along with Intel’s higher end options with the Haswell update.

      In the meantime, Intel will be coming out with some lower power versions of their Ivy Bridge lineup. There’ll be a 10W max TDP, I believe a Pentium range, that may get good enough run time to consider it instead of a Clover Trail.

      Or wait and see if any of the ARM based devices manages to get a better port of your favorite distro fully working.

    • Gizmoduck

      I’m waiting for this too since I accidental broke my Viliv N5. I took that everywhere.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mr.e.cameron Earl Cameron

      powervr linux hw accel is pretty tricky

  • Popolon

    It beats most ARM-based chips

    Nice joke ^^ from Intel. most people intestested by CPUs know that tegra3 is one of the less powerfull recent ARM SoC, and that Samsung Exynos 5250 (using dual-core Cortex A15) is far faster than any Intel Atom.

    • Popolon

      well, 550$ netbook using more energy (less time on battery), and slower than 250$ Chromebook (in CPU or in GPU area), is only interesting for people using old windows only software that can’t be used with wine…

      • CyberGusa

        It’s $500 on up net-tablet! All tablets cost more than equivalent laptops! The $249 Chromebook doesn’t have a touch screen and can’t be used as a tablet in any way.

        It’s also not as great a deal as it could have been considering Acer still managed to come out with the C7 Intel based Chromebook at $199!!!

        As for battery, nope, ARM may still hold a small power efficiency advantage but overall the Clover Trail gets about as much run time as most ARM devices. It even has always on, just like ARM devices, and can suspend for days to weeks.

        The $249 Chromebook actually has less run time than most Clover Trail tablets because they gave it a smaller battery! While some Clover Trail tablets even have user replaceable batteries!

        Being able to run full Windows 8/Pro versus RT is also more than what can’t be used with WINE!

        Mind that for most people desktop Linux isn’t yet really a option, ARM is too fragmented and the available distro ports are still limited and not all fully work yet, and Android and iOS are still only mobile OS and thus limited by design compared to desktop OS.

        You may be able to work around most of those limitations, or just don’t mind them, but that’s not going to work for most people!

      • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

        The $199 Acer Chromebook is not very much comparable to the XE303. It has half the battery life, it gets hot and has noisy fans while the Sammy stays cool, completely silent and has a 6.5 hour battery life (mine does 8 hrs with light usage).

        The poor battery life of the Acer device was a complete deal breaker for me when I was weighting my choices.

        Moreover, the ARM Chromebook runs Ubuntu fairly well, even in its alpha state (ChrUbuntu). Heck, this Exynos dual is capable of software decoding a 720p h264 stream with acceptable framerate in this alpha Ubuntu.

        I consider the XE303 a pretty good deal.

      • CyberGusa

        It’s not that the XE303 isn’t a good deal, but it’s not like the C7 doesn’t have it’s own advantages and that the XE303 doesn’t have it’s disadvantages.

        Really, while the the Acer C7 Chromebook may have half the battery run time but you can just replace the battery for more. Unlike the Samsung XE303 Chromebook in which you will always be stuck with the default battery, which will eventually wear out. So the Acer has the advantage of flexibility and the XE303 has that disadvantage.

        The Acer can also be upgraded, with access to the main drive and RAM. While again, the XE303 will be stuck with what it comes with and can never be upgraded.

        In terms of Performance the Acer is also a tad bit more powerful, it’s only a bit slower in some things because it comes with a hard drive instead of a SSD but you can change that and it does compensate with 320GB capacity versus just about 16GB for the Samsung. A advantage for those who don’t want to rely on Cloud storage or simply can’t always have a Internet connection.

        While Google hasn’t fully enabled all features of Chrome OS yet for ARM and for the Acer you also have the advantage that when you use the developer’s mode that you can run the full range of software you may ever want and not just what will run on ARM.

        This is not to say the XE303 isn’t a good deal, it’s more portable and for those who don’t want to tinker, it looks a noticeable bit nicer, and also for those who consider the system more disposable then the XE303 is the better choice but they do compare well against each other overall.

        Besides, the point is Acer managed to make a Intel based system for less than the ARM based Chromebook. This goes directly to the notion that Intel systems can’t be price competitively.

        Mind, the advance power management they’ve introduced with Medfield and Clover Trail will spread to Intel’s higher end products. So those run time advantages are going to shrink significantly in pretty much just a year or so.

        In just months Intel will be Introducing lower power versions of their higher end processors. So we’ll start seeing improvements before Haswell comes out and they’ll be releasing 10-13W max TDP solutions.

        Mind that the Samsung C7’s Celeron 847 is still a 17W solution for comparison.

        hile Clover Trail itself pretty much closes the run time advantage of ARM, provides rivaling performance for all but the latest and highest end ARM SoCs, and is actually also price competitive. Since you can get either a Tegra 3 or Clover Trail tablet for about the same price!

        The latest top end ARM solutions may be leveraging a performance advantage but Intel will bump up the Clover Trail specs in the coming months and in about a year or so we’ll start seeing the next gen ATOMs come out with more significant improvements.

        So it’s safe to say that direct competition is not only possible but inevitable, and we can’t just go by the way things have been or even presently are between x86 and ARM products.

    • CyberGusa

      Let’s not get carried away, what you call far faster is not even multiples. The Exynos 5250 only manages about as much performance as you would get from say a AMD E-350 and that’s still in the netbook range of performance!

      Mind, the ATOM is the bottom of Intel’s performance range and the Exynos is one of the best ARM has to offer right now. The ATOM architecture is also old, it hasn’t been really updated since it was first introduced and it was far from top of the line even then.

      Really, it’s like comparing a Cortex A8 to Cortex A15 and having the A8 still pull in good numbers compared to A15. The ATOM is even a In Order Processor like the A8!

      So while the Exynos has an advantage, it’s not like in the you should brag about it too much sort of range!

      Especially, since the Exynos is no more capable of running x86 optimized software than any other ARM platform and thus would be stuck only able to run the less capable Windows RT and all GNU/Linux ports to date still lack full driver support and obviously things like hardware acceleration. So most people would be stuck with just Android as their main option.

      While Clover Trail will be the only lower option to run full Windows 8 without resorting to a more powerful but a lot shorter run time device based on one of Intel’s more powerful processors.

      Meanwhile, the 2013 22nm update for the ATOM will bring a full architectural update and ARM is still up to 2 years away from bringing full 64bit to consumer ARM devices.

      While the existing Clover Trail may get a small boost if they can push full 64bit drivers. The main hold up being the lack of driver support from Imagination for the PowerVR based GMA, but otherwise Clover Trail could support full 64bit and push support for 4GB of RAM and the advantages 64bit software can bring.

      Thing to remember, it’s not just about the hardware but also the software and driver support that helps determine the success or failure of these products.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mr.e.cameron Earl Cameron

        there is no way the sammy exynos 5250 even reaches the level of the amd e-350, maybe the c-50…

      • CyberGusa

        Nope, I was initially surprised too but benchmarks show the Exynos 5250 sits somewhere around the E-350 for CPU performance.

        Remember, the C-50 (aside from using a less powerful GPU) is using the same dual core Bobcat cores as the E-350… just clocked slower at 1GHz instead of 1.6GHz.

        The slower clock speed allows even a dual core ATOM to exceed the C-50 for CPU performance, despite using a less efficient processor. So we’re not talking about a big CPU advantage to begin with here! Even the E-350 is still considered a netbook range processor!

        Really, even the low end Sandy Bridge based Pentium and Celeron CPU’s can outperform the CPU performance of a E-350.

        It’s mainly the graphical performance that puts the AMD Fusion series above the Intel ATOMs, with GPU performance 5-9x the old Pine Trail GMA 3150 and around 3x the newer Cedar Trail GMA 3600/3650, which Clover Trail is using a similar Imagination PowerVR GPU based GMA clocked between the 3600/3650.

        Like the AMD Bobcat cores, the Cortex A15 architecture uses Out Of Order Processing and in the Exynos 5250 it’s clocked at 1.7GHz with dual cores.

        ARM still has some catching up to do with memory bandwidth but they’ve already started implementing 64bit memory management and the upcoming Cortex A15 based ARM products represent how far ARM has come over the last few years.

        This is not to say the E-350 isn’t still better in other ways. ARM still can’t run x86 optimized software and it still can’t run full 64bit software. Also, it comes down to what you run on them that determines how well they’re work in real life… It’s just that the raw performance is there and you can run a desktop OS off a ARM processor now, albeit the selection may still be limited.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mr.e.cameron Earl Cameron

        the clovertrail graphics are really weak, 5x slower than c-50 and ~8x slower than e-350 and I doubt the exynos could beat the e350 in anything other than javascript based benchmarks, snb/ivb is a different story

      • CyberGusa

        Correction, Clover Trail GMA is about 3x slower than the C-50’s! It was the older Pine Trail ATOM with GMA 3150 that was 5x weaker!

        Mind that the AMD Fusion series hasn’t really been updated much in well over a year now, the Krishna and Wachita updates were canceled and the so called Brazos 2.0 (doesn’t really rate a 2.0 because they didn’t really change much) was a minor update for just a few AMD Fusion models (most notably with the C-60 and E-450). So nothing really new and better until next year’s 28nm updates that’ll also introduce updated architecture…

        We’ll just have to see how AMD’s offerings will compare to Intel’s next gen updates that’ll start coming out in the later half of 2013 as well.

        The drivers suck though for the present Clover Trail GMA because they’re using the Imagination PowerVR GPU and Imagination has pretty lousy support. So it’s only 32bit drivers and only presently supports Windows 7 and Windows 8.

        There’s a Generic VESA driver for XP, but that doesn’t have full functionality and Imagination has never really ever supported any desktop Linux distro and that leaves Linux users with similar limited generic drivers.

        However, Intel will go back to their own GMA with the 22nm update, which will also be based on the Ivy Bridge GMA HD 4000, just scaled down.

        There is of course the power efficiency difference in favor of both ARM and Clover Trail, since the E-350 is a 18W max TDP product, not counting the other components of a laptop, and doesn’t have the low mw idling capabilities that both ARM and Clover Trail have and that means they can provide over 3x the run time and far longer suspend state, with always up to date functionality… pretty much everything else besides ARM and Clover Trail does nothing when suspended.

        So the main reason to prefer the E-350 is better graphics and can run a wider range of software with full x86 and 64bit support.

        Though the 17W max TDP AMD Trinity would give you much better performance for similar run time, but would just cost a bit more…

        While for tablet usage, AMD is releasing the Z-60 Hondo but that’s basically just a slight update to the Z-01 Desna, which itself was just a power optimized version of the C-50. So it’ll be next year’s Tamesh that will be AMD’s first really competitive entry into the Tablet market.

  • DJ kill

    so x86 is legacy now? lol

  • pond

    The Atom might beat the ARM in CPU power but how about in battery life/draw?

    Also, how do they compare in price? Intel likes to charge monopoly-like markup on their chips.

    And while Win8 the real one, might let you install any old MS-Windows program, how many of them support touch input, or work well with it if they support it at all? (Remembering that one thing that doomed the TabletPC a few years back, was that MSFT business group refused to make a version of Office that worked with pen input.)

    All Metro apps will work with touch and pen input, as I think MSFT will not OK them for the windows store without such input. Ditto all Android and iOS apps. But it coule be a problem installing your old copy of a program from 2002 on a new Win8 tablet. So if I were in the market I would get a convertible laptop but not a slate. Even the Surface slates seem to require a keyboard.

  • guest

    All these windows 8 tablets are filled with various compromises for now and are expensive…best to wait for the next generation. Also do not rule out AMD entry in that space with the new Jaguar core on the Kabini platform with new process tech, it will be interesting to see how they manage vs next gen of various ARM and Atom offerings.

    • CyberGusa

      Yes, but it’s the upcoming AMD Tamesh series (Kabini is more for either higher end tablets or low end laptops) will show if AMD can become a serious contender in the Tablet space.

  • Dihydrogen

    C’mon beating the dog called Tegra 3 is impressive? How about the S4 Pro or Exynos 5 variants? Even the latest and greatest Clovertrail+ barely edges out the already shipping Snapdragon 600 and that was done with a R&D resources that make ARM ones look like peanuts.

    Besides if the masses truly cared about bleeding edge performance the iPhone 4S with the ancient SoC won’t be a top seller in Q4 2012. Like PCs once a certain level of performance is reached additional performance becomes useless for the average user, and ARM is already way past that point.

  • roger p

    RIGHT!!! BUT…. The ones it does beat, are the past gen Arm SOCs. The SNapdragon 800. NO.. The title should read. NEWEST Intel CPUs are ALMOST catching up with the PREVIOUS gen and MID RANGE Snapdragon SOCs.

    But sensationalism is a forte’, is it not?