In a recent article by Sal Marvasti, it was noted that Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) had gotten a design win in a tablet from Fujitsu. While I had initially (quite enthusiastically) applauded the launch of the chip, especially as it looked quite good on paper from a performance perspective. On the power front, I was a little disappointed as that the solution sucks down 4.5W (Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Z2760 "Atom" processor sips a mere 1.7W), but it seemed to be a step in the right direction as I had suspected that performance on the AMD solution would be superior in exchange for over twice the power consumption.
Now that the devices are out, we can do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two chips. Luckily, both run Windows 8, so thanks to Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) built in benchmark, so we can get a reasonable ball-park estimate of the performance levels of the chips.
Intel's Atom Z2760 "Clover Trail"
A quick shout out to the folks at the forums of tabletpcreview.com from whence the Z2760 data is sourced. In an attempt to play fair, I will use the slowest Z2760 from their charts. The performance was as follows in all of Microsoft's tests (all values on a 1-9.9 scale, and the scale is logarithmic):
CPU Performance: 3.4
Gaming Graphics: 3.2
AMD's Z-60 "Hondo"
A nod goes to Notebook Italia for these results!
CPU Performance: 2.7
Gaming Graphics: 5.5
So on the CPU side of things, Intel has a clear lead (as is expected). In graphics, AMD quite nicely leverages its graphics expertise to score a raw performance win there, as has been the trend on the PC side of things (although in low power chips, Intel's Integrated Graphics is within 20% of AMD's best) Intel uses a low-end graphics chip from Imagination Technologies (Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), in contrast, uses the highest end chips from Imagination). Intel has power consumption down pat (yes, folks, the "X86 Power Myth" has been busted...many, many times), while AMD's processors suck down considerably more power.
But the point is really moot, though. Until AMD's 28nm "Temash" APU hits for tablets, and until Intel releases its next-generation 22nm tri-gate based "Valleyview" system-on-chip (which will sport 2x the CPU performance of Atom Z2760 and over 3x the graphics performance of "Clover Trail"), there will be no compelling reason to use chips from either camp as Nvidia's (NASDAQ:NVDA) Tegra 4, Apple's A6X, and Samsung's Exynos 5 all provide tangibly better performance than the Intel part (at least in graphics, although I would be surprised if it were not the case on the CPU side of things -- Intel is still fighting with a core design first launched in 2008...it is a miracle that it still competes with the best available ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) based products), and much better CPU performance and power consumption than the AMD part.
Intel's saving grace is that it will actually be able to bring its next-generation "Haswell" processor to the <10W level, implying a strong presence in the high end, high performance segment of the tablet market. AMD is unlikely to be able to bring its high end designs to this power level because it lacks the resources and process technology to do so.
The bottom line is that Intel has better CPU performance, AMD has better GPU performance, and Intel's chip consumes less than half of the power that the AMD platform does (it is well within the range of any ARM design). However, next generation "Cortex A15" based parts are coming that will likely put both Intel's and AMD's current "Atom" and "Z-series APU" designs to shame. It stands to reason that Intel will ultimately face headwinds in the low end of the tablet space until "Bay Trail" in late 2013/early 2014 but with Haswell, it may very well make the higher end tablets more appealing than today's clunky ones.
The real wildcard is AMD's "Temash" APU based on its brand new "Jaguar" cores.
Disclosure: I am long INTC, NVDA, AMD. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: I am short ARMH