26 November 2013

Intel’s Bay Trail will go 64-bit next year and a new level of performance awaiting

When Intel launched Bay Trail earlier this year, one of the hallmarks of the design was that it would be 64-bit across all SKUs. Then, thanks to problems with the 64-bit driver for Connected Standby mode, Intel shipped the tablet chip on 32-bit Windows 8 tablets. With last-generation’s Clover Trail 32-bit was less of an issue, because the architecture wasn’t powerful enough to do much serious work. With Bay Trail, 32-bit was much more of a limitation.

At its Analyst Day last week, Intel finally gave notice that it would be scrapping the 32-bit limit and launching a 64-bit platform for the new 22nm chip. According to Intel, 64-bit support will arrive for Windows first, followed by Android tablets. This is likely (at least partly) a response to strong uptake for the new Apple processors. While we were initially dubious of the benefits of 64-bit on that platform, Apple delivered a chip with significant gains in both 32-bit and 64-bit code.

Now, Android manufacturers are scrambling to talk about their own 64-bit plans, and Intel has made it clear that it’s got a hat in the ring on that front, too. As for performance gains, the company is claiming Adobe Photoshop will run “up to 40 percent faster” on Bay Trail. Again, for Clover Trail, this claim was irrelevant Photoshop on Clover Trail was so wretchedly terrible that a 40% performance gain wouldn’t have mattered. With Bay Trail regularly running 2-3x faster than Clover Trail to start with, improving its performance by a further 40% is meaningful.

This is part of Intel’s general goal to bring Atom performance further towards the Core standard. The worried talk from several years ago that Core might lose market share if Atom got too good has been supplanted by an assumption that Intel needs to sell into these markets, and maintain feature parity with ARM to do it. On the one hand, this means the company is more willing to push the design of its chips and incorporate better cross-platform standards. On the other, it does mean Intel commits to playing a numbers game. The fact that 64-bit performance is better on Apple’s A7 (and worth the power trade off) doesn’t automatically mean this will be true for Intel’s x86 chips, or even other 64-bit custom implementations of the ARMv8 architecture.

Incidentally, most of the Kabini-powered AMD notebooks we’ve seen are already on 64-bit, so moving Bay Trail to this standard will put it on an even footing with AMD’s own solution.

Now read: Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 805, an ARM chip ready for a 4K world


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