Hands-on with Intel’s new Bay Trail tablet chips
Intel’s latest-generation Atom System-on-a-Chip (SoC) is codenamed Bay Trail, and we’ve just returned from a a benchmarking session for production-ready Atom Z3770 Bay Trail chips hosted by Intel’s benchmarking guru, Matt Dunford, at the Kempinski hotel in Munich.
From what we saw, Bay Trail is looking like a worthy successor to Clover Trail, the processor currently powering tablets like the Asus VivoTab Smart and Samsung’s Smart PC 500T. The graphics performance of the new architecture’s top chip, the Atom Z3770, is twice as fast in places as that of the fastest Clover Trail chip, the Z2760. This is mostly thanks to the fact that Bay Trail now uses Intel’s excellent HD graphics subsystem, rather than Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator solution and other third-party solutions present in Clover Trail chips.
HD Graphics’presence was very much evident when it came to games, running Defense Grid: The Awakening at a very smooth and highly playable frame rate. Defense Grid on the Clover Trail tablet, set to the exact same graphics quality, was jerky and laggy in comparison.
Torchlight II was also loaded on both tablets, and with the Bay Trail tablet we loaded the game, chose our character and were ready to play in less than a minute with silky-smooth animations. The Clover Trail tablet, on the other hand, took over three minutes to do the same thing, and graphics performance was jittery and laggy. Gaming smoothly on Bay Trail tablets, when they arrive, will definitely be an option.
Bay Trail’s extra graphics grunt will come in handy: we were told that Intel expects future Windows tablets will have screens with resolutions much higher than those seen today. The engineering samples at the event had a resolution of 2560 x 1440, which naturally required more processing power from the system’s graphics unit than the 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080 resolutions of Clover Trail-based tablets. From what we saw today, we’re very confident the new chips will handle future hi-res screens just fine.
It’s not just graphics power where Bay Trail shines, either, it beats out Clover Trail on other tasks as well: everything from booting up to loading applications was noticeably faster on the Bay Trail-equipped tablets we saw. In a live demonstration, Intel ran a photo-editing benchmark using Photoshop Express that automatically adjusted a pre-loaded selection of photos with various effects side-by-side on Bay Trail and Clover Trail tablets, and by the time the Bay Trail tablet was done, the Clover Trail tablet was only at the 50% mark. The same happened with an Arcsoft video encoding benchmark – Bay Trail finished the task in half the time of Clover Trail.
HTML5 is another area where strong performance is a must, and we had the opportunity to compare a Bay Trail tablet’s HTML5 figures with that of a full-blown Ivy Bridge Core i5 notebook’s. The results were surprising: 5892 on the notebook, and 4665 on the tablet, a gap that’s not as big as we’d expected.
And then there’s 3DMark. Sure, it’s a synthetic benchmark, but it’s still used to provide an idea of relative performance. The Bay Trail tablet we got our hands on delivered the following results at 3DMark’s default settings:
- Ice Storm Extreme: 9924 3DMarks
- Ice Storm (not extreme): 16519 3DMarks
- Cloud Storm: 1298 3DMarks
While Fire Strike ran, the first two tests were slide shows, and the last crashed so we didn’t get a result.
Still, just let that sink in for a moment: 3DMark, running on a tablet. And yes, the top PC systems reach scores in the 150,000 range in some tests, but the scores above are still pretty impressive for a mobile device running on battery power.
On the subject of battery power, Matt told us that Bay Trail-powered systems will offer a similar amount of up-time on a single charge to what Clover Trail systems offer today, which will still vary according to how, exactly, the system is being used. While on the surface that doesn’t sound like good news, it’s pretty impressive considering the additional processing power of the new chips. Matt said he expects Bay Trail systems to offer 9 to 12 hours under normal usage conditions, less when playing games or editing media.
Going on everything we saw in Munich, tablets that run Bay Trail processors are going to be a true pleasure to use, and will deliver tablet performance that’s closer to that of a desktop than we’ve ever seen before. It will also hopefully usher in an era of next-level mobile gaming on tablet hardware that requires less compromise in terms of smoothness and detail than it currently does.
We look forward to benchmarking our own samples when Bay Trail tablets hit the market in the next few months.