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.
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.