For Intel, the road to their first real competitive smartphone SoC has been a long one. Shortly after joining AnandTech and beginning this journey writing about both smartphones and the SoC space, I remember hopping on a call with Anand and some Intel folks to talk about Moorestown. While we never did see Moorestown in a smartphone, we did see it in a few tablets, and even looked at performance in an OpenPeak Tablet at IDF 2011. Back then performance was more than competitive against the single core Cortex A8s in a number of other devices, but power profile, lack of ISP, video encode, decode, or PoP LPDDR2 support, and the number of discrete packages required to implement Moorestown, made it impossible to build a smartphone around. While Moorestown was never the success that Intel was hoping for, it paved the way for something that finally brings x86 both down to a place on the power-performance curve that until now has been dominated by ARM-powered SoCs, and includes all the things hanging off the edges that you need (ISP, encode, decode, integrated memory controller, etc), and it’s called Medfield. With Medfield, Intel finally has a real, bona fide SoC that is already in a number of devices shipping before the end of 2012.

In both an attempt to prove that its Medfield platform is competitive enough to ship in actual smartphones, and speed up the process of getting the platform to market, Intel created its own smartphone Form Factor Reference Design (FFRD). While the act of making a reference device is wholly unsurprising since it’s analogous to Qualcomm’s MSM MDPs or even TI’s OMAP Blaze MDP, what is surprising is its polish and aim. We’ve seen and talked about the FFRD a number of times before, including our first glimpse at IDF 2011 and numerous times since then. Led by Mike Bell (of Apple and Palm, formerly), a team at Intel with the mandate of making a smartphone around Medfield created a highly polished device as both a demonstration platform for OEM customers and for sale directly to the customer through participating carriers. This FFRD has served as the basis for the first Medfield smartphones that will (and already are) shipping this year, including the Orange Santa Clara, Lenovo K800, and the device we’re looking at today, the Lava Xolo X900. Future Medfield-based devices will deviate from the FFRD design (like the upcoming Motorola device), but will still be based loosely on the whole Medfield platform. For now, in the form of the X900 we’re basically looking at the FFRD with almost no adulteration from carriers or other OEMs.

The purpose and scope of this review is ambitious and really covers two things - both an overview of Intel’s Medfield platform built around the Atom Z2460 Penwell SoC, and a review of the Xolo X900 smartphone FFRD derivative itself.

The Device

Beginning April 23rd, Intel, through Lava International, began selling the Xolo X900 smartphone in India for INR 22000 (~$420 USD). As we’ve stated before, the design and construction of the Xolo X900 almost identically mirrors the Intel FFRD we’ve seen before, from the specifications and Medfield platform itself, to industrial design and exterior buttons.

It’s a testament to the polish of the reference design that Mike Bell’s team put together that Intel is confident enough to basically sell exactly that device through carrier partners. I’ll admit I was skeptical upon hearing that Intel would basically be selling their MDP to customers, but the device’s fit and polish exceeded my expectations and are clearly those of something ready for customer abuse. First up are the X900 specifications in our regular table (below), Xolo also has its own nicely presented specifications page for the X900 online.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4S Samsung Galaxy S 2 Samsung Galaxy Nexus (GSM/UMTS) Lava Xolo X900
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 125.3 mm (4.93") 135.5 mm (5.33") 123 mm (4.84")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 66.1 mm (2.60") 67.94 mm (2.67) 63 mm (2.48")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 8.49 mm (0.33") 8.94 mm (0.35") 10.99 mm (0.43")
Weight 140 g (4.9 oz) 115 g (4.06 oz) 135 g (4.8 oz) 127 g (4.5 oz)
CPU Apple A5 @ ~800MHz Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z2460 with HT (1C2T)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP2 ARM Mali-400 PowerVR SGX 540 @ 304 MHz PowerVR SGX 540 @ 400 MHz
RAM 512MB LPDDR2-800 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 @ 400 MHz
NAND 16GB, 32GB or 64GB integrated 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 16/32 GB NAND 16 GB NAND
Camera 8 MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8 MP AF/LED flash, 2 MP front facing 5 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 8 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.27" 800 x 480 SAMOLED+ 4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED HD 4.03" 1024x600 LED backlit LCD
Battery Internal 5.3 Whr Removable 6.11 Whr Removable 6.48 Whr Internal 5.4 Whr

It’s interesting to me that Intel, Qualcomm, and others identified and went with WSVGA (1024x600) for their reference designs in roughly the same 4" size. It’s a display form factor that corresponds almost exactly to 300 PPI, and looks great, but more on that later. The rest of the X900 is basically what you’d expect for a smartphone of this generation, and on par with the Android competition that Intel was targeting, perhaps minus microSD expansion.

The design language of the X900 (and Intel FFRD) is a pretty obvious nod to the iPhone 4/4S design, complete with chrome ring, similar button placement, and a few other things. Likewise, the X900 uses a microSIM whose tray is located on the right side and makes use of an ejector port and tool. Below that is the X900’s two-stage camera button, and then speaker port. There’s a matching speaker port on the other side in the same area.

MicroUSB is located at the very bottom slightly off center, and microHDMI is on the left side. Up at the top is power/standby and the standard headphone jack. There’s no real surprises here, and despite being entirely plastic-clad, the X900 feels pretty decent in the hand.

The backside is a soft touch material which we’ve seen and felt on countless other smartphones before. The only downside to the X900 design is lack of a user replaceable battery - the backside is permanently attached. At the top is the 8 MP camera port, adjacent LED flash, and secondary microphone for noise suppression.

 

The front of the X900 is likewise pretty standard fare - up top are the 1.3 MP front facing camera, speaker grille, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor. At the bottom are the four Android capacitive buttons whose design mirrors the FFRD we’ve seen before.

Again there’s nothing super crazy about the design or construction of the X900, it’s an extremely polished reference design turned consumer electronic that feels solid and ready for use as a daily driver if you’re up for it. Enough about the superficial stuff though, let’s talk about what everyone wants to know about - Medfield and Android on x86.

Medfield: Intel in a Smartphone
POST A COMMENT

106 Comments

View All Comments

  • kyuu - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    I dunno what review you all were reading, but I didn't see average performance. I saw it pretty much beating everything else save the HTC One S/X with only a single-core and running an old version of Android. Wth ICS, it'd probably be at the top easily.

    Sure, ARM isn't sitting still, but is Intel. I have no desire to see Intel overtake the market, but I can easily see Intel being the performance king by a good margin in the mobile SoC market when they release their next SoC.

    Also, for people saying cost is a factor... do you have any source to back up the claim that Intel's SoC is significantly more costly? All I see are assumptions.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    That's "neither is Intel" in the second paragraph, first sentence. Reply
  • UpSpin - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    SunSpider and Browsermark results are that good because of software tweaks done by Intel. Intel tweaked a lot in software, thus I doubt that ICS will improve anything further.

    Linpack single threaded, that's the most important benchmark to compare raw processing power without software tweaks. It shows that Medifield is faster than ARM A9, a good sign, but slower than Krait and thus all soon to get released A15 cores, a bad sign.
    Linpack multi threaded shows that Medfield has not the slightest chance vs. Krait and ARM A15, most of them will be dual core SoCs, but even if they get produced in single core varients they will be faster (Linpack single threaded). Medifield also gets beaten by Quad Core A9 chips (all new high end smartphones pack either a Quad Core A9, or dual Core krait/A15). Medfield is at best, as fast as a dual core A9 (raw processing power).

    Then take a look at the GPU: Poor performance for todays standards. Slower than the SGSII, slightly faster than the Galaxy Nexus, which has a slow GPU, too.

    Power consumption: poor to average. (sadly we don't have numbers for Krait or Tegra 3 (HTC One X/S)

    The SoC is not bad at all, but its release date is one year too late. This year is the year of Krait and A15, which beat Medfield in single threaded applications and are at least dual cores, so more than twice as fast. The integrated GPU is pretty weak, too, especially if you consider that this years ARM SoCs have a much better GPU.

    Additionally x86, the advantage is huge software tweaks thanks to Intel, the disadvantage, custom skins/apps/features made by third party manufacturers won't run that easily.
    Reply
  • Exophase - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Intel doesn't tweak Sunspider or Browsermark. But Javascript JIT performance is probably much better on x86 than ARM right now because it got a ton of attention on PCs from all major browser vendors, starting with the release of Chrome. And there's at least one major ARM improvement (EABI hardfloat) that's in V8 but didn't make it into official Android yet.

    Browsermark is only partially Javascript, but the other part (HTML5 rendering) is really lame too. Run it and you'll see what I mean, I hope.

    Linpack is also a lousy benchmark. Any serious vector FP code on a phone (like matrix stuff for a game) would use SIMD with compiler intrinsics or ASM, and probably single precision over double precision. But even as a Dalvik double precision floating point test it sucks because it's not tiled and therefore heavily bandwidth limited.

    Basically, most of the benchmarks used are awful.
    Reply
  • clockerspiel - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    The cell phone industry desparately needs a "flagship" representative for the Android ecosystem - and this ain't it! Reply
  • jjj - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    You can't normalize battery life unless you factor in the screen size since the screen uses a lot of power and the handset's volume is directly related to the screen size and battery size.
    By normalizing you are making things worse than better.If you can't measure the power consumption for just the SoC you might as well just provide the system's battery life since,in the end, that's what matters anyway.
    It is what it is,you can't take out the screen or the RAM or the NAND but that's no reason to make things worse with tests that distort the reality instead of helping.
    Reply
  • menting - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    uhh, it's not measuring the power consumption for the SoC, it's measuring the whole phone's power usage. So in this case, normalizing IS a valid way to go about this. Reply
  • plamengv - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    It is beyond me why Intel will market x86 CPU with OS that has nothing to do with x86. The people who want Android will always go with the better looking and cheaper device. Something that this device is not. The other with knowledge will go for iPhone because there is no other alternative. Windows Phone is from professional point of view worse than Windows Mobile 6.5 and lacks lot of features. Intel had to bet on Windows 7 turning the smartphones into UMPC. Imagine Viliv S5 shrinked to Galaxy Note but running Windows 7! Well maybe Haswell and 22nm will finally make it. Reply
  • menting - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    android was built from Linux..tell me where Linux has nothing to do with x86. And with future android versions including x86 compiles by default., x86 or not isn't an issue.

    The X900 is a reference design, who says other companies can't put a different external case on it? And where's proof that it will be more expensive?
    Reply
  • superPC - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    why windows 7? windows 8 would be a lot better suited for something similar with this phone (with compatible GPU). Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now