Javascript Performance

Although smartphones are clearly headed for a life beyond simple messaging, web browsing and phone duties, we are still lacking the tools to measure performance in areas other than a component of web page rendering. Measuring javascript performance is one component of the entire web page rendering process but it's the most mature in terms of something we can benchmark.

Sunspider is quite possibly the most well known of these javascript tests, and it also happens to be one that runs extremely well on Medfield:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

The Lava phone is just a tad faster than the FFRD we tested at the beginning of the year, which may not sound like much but is positive given that Mike Bell was very confident that all Intel FFRD phones would deliver the same level of performance. The X900 ends up being the fastest smartphone we've ever tested here. Intel won't be able to claim that title in any other benchmark here today but it's an impressive feat for just now showing up to the game. It's also worth pointing out that Intel is able to do this well running on Gingerbread, while its closest competition are running on Ice Cream Sandwich with far improved JS performance built into the browser.

Why is Medfield so much faster here? It's tough to say, but likely a combination of reasons. Google's V8 engine has had a ton of optimization work done around x86 to begin with. By virtue of nearly every computing platform that runs a Google browser outside of Android being x86, it's natural that some of those optimizations are going to transition over into Android for x86 as well. That's actually a part of a much larger advantage Intel has should x86 take off in the smartphone space.

On a more technical hardware level, Intel claims its cache and memory interfaces are simply better than the competition here - which in turn results in a significant performance jump in Sunspider.

BrowserMark is another js benchmark in our suite, but here the advantage has been reduced to simply competitive with the fastest phones in our labs:

BrowserMark

For a single Atom core running Gingerbread, Medfield does very well here - roughly equaling the performance of NVIDIA's Tegra 3 (HTC One X) and Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 (HTC One S). It's quite possible that when running ICS Medfield will once again step ahead of the competition, but even if this is as good as it gets it's a good start. Keep in mind that we're looking at a 4 year old microprocessor architecture running on a n - 1 process from Intel.

Low Level FP Performance

Linpack isn't a great indication of smartphone performance, but it is a good test of the floating point capabilities of the CPUs in these SoCs. ARM has steadily been improving FP performance for the past few generations but we're going to see a big jump to Krait/A15. As most client smartphone workloads are integer based and those that are FP heavy end up relying on the GPU, an advantage here doesn't tell us much today (particularly because Linpack isn't running native code but rather atop Dalvik) other than how speedy the FPUs are:

Linpack - Single-threaded

Single threaded FP performance is very good on Medfield as you'd expect, but a bit lower than Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4. As Krait is a wider, out-of-order architecture with a fairly reasonable FPU the 13% advantage here isn't too surprising. Compared to anything A9 based however, Medfield is obviously quicker.

Linpack, like many scientific workloads, scales up to multiple cores quite nicely. If we spawn as many threads as there are logical cores (2 for Intel and Qualcomm, but 4 for NVIDIA's Tegra 3) we can see how Intel's single-core Atom fares in a multithreaded world:

Linpack - Multi-threaded

There's roughly no change in Medfield's performance here, which will be an issue for any compute heavy, very threaded application. Luckily for Intel, not many of these types of applications exist on smartphones today, but it is a limitation of this first generation Medfield. Hyper Threading is a great way to increase CPU utilization power efficiently, but for some workloads there's no replacement for more cores. Snapdragon S4 does extremely well here in the HTC One S by being a combination of two cores and having a much faster FPU.

BaseMark OS

Rightware's BaseMark OS is a general purpose benchmark designed to better simulate overall Android performance. It includes a heavily threaded benchmark, file IO tests, and compression/decompression tasks that all contribute to its overall score. We only have results from the HTC One S (Snapdragon S4), One X (Tegra 3), Galaxy Nexus (OMAP 4) and the Lava phone (Medfield) here:

BaseMark OS Performance

At least in BaseMark OS, Intel's performance is distinctly modern although not at the head of the class. Differences in performance here extend beyond the SoC and are obviously influenced by things like NAND selection as well as the OS on the device. For many of these benchmarks I'm very curious to see how they change with the arrival of Ice Cream Sandwich.

Vellamo

Vellamo is a Qualcomm developed benchmark that focuses primarily on browser performance, both in rendering and UI speed. The results are heavily influenced by the browser used on the device being tested. As a whole Vellamo isn't always indicative of whether or not you're going to get a smooth browsing experience, but it's another datapoint that captures more than just javascript performance. The Qualcomm-developed nature of the benchmark is always cause for concern, but even if you exclude the Snapdragon results the benchmark can be useful:

Vellamo Overall Score

Once again we have a good showing from Intel. The X900 and its Medfield soul aren't the fastest, but Intel's first smartphone is in the top three and faster than almost everything that came before it. Much of the advantage here actually comes from the Google V8 benchmark, another js test, which we've already established Intel can do quite well in.

Flash Rendering Performance

These days nearly all high-end smartphones (I refuse to call them superphones) can render Flash smoothly. Thankfully Intel's platform is no exception as the X900 delivers a competitive showing in our Flash benchmark:

CraftyMindFlash Rendering Performance

Android on x86 and Binary Translation GPU Performance
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  • jwcalla - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Well... it's competitive. Ultimately it'll come down to who has the most desirable device. We know Apple has it's iPhone... Samsung the Galaxy S... Motorola the Droid Razr, etc. Intel would need to get in with one of those companies and be a top device to be accepted. Nobody is going to buy it just because it's Intel. (Except the fanboys of course.) Reply
  • dt1561 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Looks cool but nothing extraordinary. Reply
  • fic2 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Not that it matters much but does the display use Gorilla Glass? Reply
  • snoozemode - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Sure it's fun that Intel finally has proven that x86/Atom works in a smartphone, but the overall result is just a very bland phone that's not superior at anything really. And with a price of $420.. Why would anyone buy this? Reply
  • A5 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    That's $420 with no contract. Considering the average carrier subsidy is $300-$400, this is a firmly mid-range device. Reply
  • fm123 - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    That is the price in India, which could be a completely different situation than other countries. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    So given the nature of x86, can we self-install other compatible operating systems such as an x86 port of MeeGo? I'm *very* interested in using MeeGo outside of the N9. What about the x86 ICS image that Google makes available on its own website? Are there any customization or tweaking requirements, or can we install any new OS the same way we would install Linux or Windows on typical x86 hardware?

    That would be the ultimate advantage of an x86 phone or tablet, no?

    Finally, the battery tests here don't discuss standby battery life. That's always been an issue with Android, and is why every other OS seems to have much longer battery life than Android. We don't use our smartphones the way these battery torture tests suggest we do. Could you please download an app like Battery Monitor Widget and indicate how many mA are being used during standby?
    Reply
  • dcollins - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Installing a new OS requires supported drivers. MeeGo could be installed in theory if you ported the necessary drivers from Android. They are both Linux based, so this is theoretically possible, but it will require a lot of hacking and technical expertise. The Windows driver model is totally different so you would have to reverse engineer drivers from scratch. That's not going to happen.

    This fight is not about x86 versus ARM as ISAs. It's about Intel versus ARM licensees: who can develop a faster, lower power chip? If Intel does their job well, the ISA shouldn't matter to the end user.
    Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    I think you misunderstand. MeeGo already provides support for x86. Technically it's now "Tizen", but regardless it's been developed with both ARM and x86 in mind. My main question is whether we can self-install an x86 port of MeeGo (or Tizen) onto this phone? Reply
  • fteoath64 - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    ¨This fight is not about x86 versus ARM as ISAs. It's about Intel versus ARM licensees¨

    It blows down to just that!. The cost efficiency of ARM chips will just kill any chance of Intel getting into this market. Just look at a completely built Android handset made in china with retina display for $119. A retailer selling it for $160-199 will made heaps, if billions of units are involved. All licenses of chips and Android are legit. Not copycat stuff. Genuine Cortex A9 licenses.

    It comes at a time when having 4-5 suppliers of ARM chips have made the market very resilient, something a single supplier can never do. So I say to Intel again, get an ARM license and play this game the right way. You can innovate very nicely with competition, and you really need that competition to keep your edge.
    Reply

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