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Intel unveils Atom x3, x5, and x7 mobile SoCs

Mar 2, 2015 — by Eric Brown 5,539 views

Intel announced new “Cherry Trail-T” Atom x5 and x7 SoCs, mainly targeting Android and Windows 10 tablets, plus a low-cost LTE-enabled “Sofia” Atom x3 SoC.

Over the last year, as Intel suffered from slow sales of mobile Atom system-on-chips aimed at smartphones and tablets, the company has downplayed its mobile marketing while instead banging the Internet of Things and wearables drums. Yet, with its new Atom x3, x5, and x7 SoCs, Intel is better prepared to compete with ARM vendors for the Android market than ever before.

Intel’s newly announced mobile chips are highlighted in yellow

The Atom x3 (code-named Sofia) was announced in April of last year as a low-cost SoC for entry-level phones and tablets. Nevertheless, it was said to use its upcoming, 14nm fabricated Airmont architecture. As it turned, out the Atom x3 is a 28nm chip for now, although the two new x5 and x7 Atoms have indeed moved to the 14nm process. (All three new Atoms support 64-bit instructions.) The Atom x5 and x7 were pre-announced in January with the code name Cherry Trail-T.

Atom x5 and x7


Some Cherry Trail-T details were revealed in conjunction with the release of Intel’s 5th Gen “Broadwell” Core processors, including a common next-generation Intel graphics architecture called Gen8. According to Intel’s announcement today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Atom x5 and x7 offers up to twice the 3D graphics performance compared to previous “Bay Trail-T” Atom Z37x5 tablet SoCs.

Atom x5 and x7 SoCs

There was no mention of a Cherry Trail update for the “Merrifield” Atom Z34xx smartphone SoC, which like the Atom Z37x5 and the general embedded “Bay Trail-I” Atom E3800, uses the same 22nm Tri-Gate Silvermont architecture. Intel also had no announcement concerning an embedded variant on the 14nm Cherry Trail SoCs, although based on past roll-outs, we can expect to see one by summer.

The quad-core Atom x5 (Z8500 and Z8300) and Atom x7 (Z8700) will appear in $119 to $499 tablets from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba, in the first half of the year, says Intel. The tablets will run Android and/or Windows, and more tablets and all-in-one computers will ship with Windows 10 when it arrives later this year.

Atom x3, x5, and x7 market positioning
(click image to enlarge)

Compared to an Atom Z3975 tablet SoC running at 1.59GHz, an Atom x7-8700 running at 2.4GHz will perform about twice as fast on the GFxBench T-Rex benchmark and about 50 percent faster using 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, claims Intel. Note that these are graphics-oriented benchmarks. As with the 5th Gen Cores, the initial release is focusing on graphics while optimizations for 14nm for improved general performance will come in a later release. Still, the new Atoms are likely a bit faster on non-graphics tasks, as well.

Meanwhile, the ARM world is catching up on fabrication processes. Several weeks ago, Samsung announced a new octacore Exynos 7 SoC made with a 14nm process. The SoC, which combines four Cortex-A57 and four Cortex-A53 cores, is claimed to offer up to 20 percent faster speed, 35 percent less power consumption, and 30 percent productivity gain over the previous 20nm Exynos 6. ARM’s new Cortex-A72 design, meanwhile, will tap TSMC’s new 16nm FinFET+ node fabrication.

Atom x5 and x7 platform block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

As suggested, the Atom x7 is the fastest of the SoCs, but there’s not a huge difference between the x5 and x7. The x5 platform comes in both 1.84GHz x5-8300 and 2.24GHz x5-8500 models, and there’s more of a gap between the x5-8500 and the x5-8500 than there is between the x5-8500 and x7-8700. As with Intel’s Bay Trail-T announcements, there were no TDPs announced or any related battery life claims.

Specifications released for the Atom x5-8300, x5-8500, and x7-8700 include:

  • CPU — 4x 64-bit, 14nm Airmont cores @ up to 1.84GHz (x5-8300), 2.24GHz (x5-8500), and 2.4GHz (x7-8700)
  • Graphics — Intel Gen8 @ up to 500MHz (x5-8300) or 600MHz (x5-8500 and x7-8700); supports DX 11.1, OpenGL ES 3.1, OpenCL 1.2, OpenGL 4.3, RS Compute
  • Video:
    • 1080p60 HEVC decode, H.264, VP8
    • WiDi and HDCP support
    • Internal resolution up to 1920 x 1200 (x5-8300) or 2500 x 1600 (x5-8500 and x7-8700)
    • External resolution up to 1920 x 1080 (x5-8300) or 4k2k (x5-8500 and x7-8700)
  • Storage — supports eMMC 4.51, SDIO
  • Camera — up to 8-megapixel Intel RealSense Snapshot (x5-8300); up to 13-megapixel Intel RealSense 3DCamera (x5-8500 and x7-8700)
  • Connectivity:
    • Discrete Intel XMM 7260/62 LTE Cat 6 up to 300Mbps
    • Intel WLAN
    • Intel WWAN (via M.2 module on x5-8300, via XMM 726x on x5-8500 and x7-8700)
    • Intel NFC
    • WiGig (x7-8700 only)
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 OTG
    • 3x USB host (2.0 on x5-8300, 3.0 on x5-8500 and x7-8700)
    • 2x HSIC
    • 2x SSIC (x5-8500 and x7-8700 only)
    • 6x (x5-8300) or 7x (x5-8500 and x7-8700) I2C
    • I2C (ISH)
    • I2C (NFC)
    • SPI
    • 2x HSUART
    • 3x I2S
    • LPC (x5-8500 and x7-8700 only)
    • 1x (x5-8300) or 2x (x5-8500 and x7-8700) PCIe 2.0

XMM 7360 LTE
(click to enlarge)

Unlike with the Sofia SoCs, there’s no integrated baseband, but there’s a recommended pairing with Intel’s third-generation XMM 7360 LTE modem, which ships in the second half of the year. The compact modem chip supports LTE Advanced technology up to Category 10 at speeds of up to 450Mbps, says Intel. The XMM 7360 supports 3x carrier aggregation of up to 60MHz combined bandwidth, and uses Intel’s Smarti 5 transceiver design and “advanced interference mitigation techniques,” says Intel. Other features include envelope tracking and power optimization.

Intel also announced new Intel Wireless-AC 8×70 (WiFi), Intel Wireless-GNSS 2×00 (location), and Intel Wireless-NFC 4000 (near field communication) chips. The 802.11ac compatible Wireless-AC will be offered in high- and low-end models.

Like the 5th Gen Core CPUs, the Cherry Trail SoCs support Intel RealSense 3D depth and gesture recognition cameras. The camera modules can help devices detect finger level movements for more accurate gesture recognition, as well as facial features for understanding movement and emotions. A newly announced R200 model due in the second half of 2015 will provide “enhanced photography with instant dimensions, 3D video capture, background subtraction, and advanced image edits,” says Intel.

The Atom x5 and x7 SoCs also support Intel WiDi and WiGig technologies for casting content to the big screen. In addition, the SoCs will support Intel’s True Key biometrics security devices, which will be generally available later this year.

Atom x3 (Sofia)

The Atom x3 (aka “Sofia”) SoCs are aimed at Android- and Windows-based entry and value level smartphones, phablets, and tablets, primarily in Asian markets. Twenty companies will release Atom x3 based products, including Asus and Jolla, the makers of the Sailfish OS Jolla phone.

The Atom x3 integrates two or four 64-bit, 28nm fabricated Atom cores along with an ARM Mali GPU, an image sensor processor (ISP), and integrated 3G or 4G LTE basebands. The dual-core, 1GHz x3-C3130 and quad-core, 1.2GHz x3-C3230RK ship with 3G basebands, as well as Mali-400 MP2 and Mali-450 MP4 GPUs, respectively. The quad-core, 1.4GHz x3-C3440 integrates a 4G LTE baseband and a Mali-720 MP2 GPU.

The x3-C3130 supports only LPDDR2 RAM, while the other two models also support LPDDR3. They all support eMMC 4.4.1 flash memory, and the x3-C3230RK also supports NAND with ECC.

Previously, it seemed that Rockchip was building all the Sofia SoCs, but as the naming scheme suggests, the x3-C3230RK is the only one manufactured by Rockchip. All three SoCs, however, use TSMC’s 28nm process rather than Intel’s own fabs — a major departure for the chipmaker. Intel released results of the x3-C3230RK running a MobileXPRT benchmark. It beat quad-core, Cortex-A53 SoCs from Qualcomm (Snapdragon 410) and MediaTek (MT6732), and beat it soundly in the case of the Snapdragon. Once again, there were no power consumption figures.

The Sofia SoCs offer “high quality” audio with noise reduction, echo cancellation, dynamic range processing, and ambient noise adaptation, says Intel. They also support both 5-megapixel front-facing and 13-megapixel rear-facing cameras.

The x3-C3130 and x3-C3230RK ship with “A-Gold 620” wireless chipsets that combine the 3G baseband with WiFi-n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, FM radio, and GPS/GLONASS modules. They also include audio and power management chips.

The x3-C3440, however, is decked out with more advanced Intel technology, including the 4G module, an Intel PMIC, and the aforementioned Intel Wireless-AC, Wireless-GNSS, and Intel NFC modules. The 4G LTE modem, which incorporates Intel’s Smarti transceiver, is touted for its support for 14x LTE bands in a single SKU, providing single-chip carrier aggregation up to 40MHz, CAT 6 speeds, and LTE TDD and FDD modes.

Further information

More information on Intel’s Atom x3, x5, and x7 SoCs, as well as other Intel announcements may be found at the Intel newsroom.

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One response to “Intel unveils Atom x3, x5, and x7 mobile SoCs”

  1. CFWhitman says:

    Well, I’m glad to see these chips have Intel video and not PowerVR. It seemed like Intel was using PowerVR GPUs for every other generation of mobile chip for a while. It would be nice to know that future Intel mobile chips would stick to Intel graphics with open source drivers for better Linux support.

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