The PowerVR SGX 540 in Medfield is no different from what you'd get in an OMAP 4460, with the exception that it's clocked a bit higher at 400MHz. 

The SGX 540 here is a remnant of Intel's earlier strategy to have Medfield out far sooner than it actually is going to show up on the market. Thankfully Intel has plans to introduce a PowerVR SGX 543MP2 based Medfield successor also before the end of the year.

Video Decode/Encode Support, Silicon Hive ISP

Intel relies on two more IP blocks from Imagination Technologies: the VDX385 and VDE285 for 1080p video decode and encode. Intel claims support for hardware accelerated 1080p30 decode, High Profile. Maximum supported bitrate is apparently up to 50Mbps, although Intel only demonstrated a 20Mbps High Profile stream:


Intel also claims support for 1080p30 video encode.

Medfield's ISP is provided by Intel owned Silicon Hive. The ISP supports cameras ranging from 5MP to 16MP (primary sensor), with the reference design standardizing on an 8MP sensor. Medfield supports burst capture at up to 15 fps (8MP). 

The Process

Intel bifurcated its process technology a few years ago, offering both low power and high performance versions of each of its process nodes. Today those process nodes are staggered (45nm LP after high perf 32nm, 32nm LP debuts after high performance 22nm, etc...) however Intel plans on bringing both in lockstep.

Medfield debuts on Intel's 32nm LP process. The only details we have from Intel are that leakage is 10x lower than the lowest on 45nm. Compared to Moorestown, Medfield boasts 43% lower dynamic power or 37% higher frequency at the same power level.

The bigger and more valid comparison is to TSMC's 28nm process, which is what companies like Qualcomm will be using for their next-generation SoCs. It's unclear (and very difficult) to compare different architectures on different processes, but it's likely that Intel's 32nm LP process is more comparable to TSMC's 28nm LP process than it would be to any 4x-nm node.

It is important to note that Intel seems very willing to sacrifice transistor density in order to achieve lower power consumption where possible. I don't believe Intel will have the absolute smallest die sizes in the market, but I also don't believe it's clear what the sweet spot is for mobile SoCs at this point. It's quite likely that Apple's ~120mm^2 target is likely where everyone will eventually end up in the near term.

The Roadmap

Although Medfield is already posting competitive performance numbers, its current competition is roughly a year old. Within the next two quarters we'll see smartphones and tablets shipping based on Qualcomm's Krait. The next-generation Snapdragon platform should be Cortex A15-like in its performance level

Today we have Medfield, a single core Atom paired with a PowerVR SGX 540 built on Intel's 32nm LP process. Before the end of the year we'll see a dual-core Atom based Medfield with some form of a GPU upgrade. I wouldn't be too surprised to see something like a PowerVR SGX 543MP2 at that point either. In tandem Intel will eventually release an entry level SoC designed to go after the more value market. Finally we'll see an Intel Atom based SoC with integrated Intel baseband from its Infineon acquisition - my guess is that'll happen sometime in 2013.

The CPU What's Different This Time Around: Google & A Sweet Reference Platform
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Griswold - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    How is "too little too late" going to help Intel? By the time products with this trash flock to market, it'll be up against A15 and look like the thing from yesteryear it really is..
  • iwod - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    It was always only a matter of time before Intel get a x86 CPU with their superior manufacturing down to ARM SoC level.

    And since new science discovery is pushing Moores Law's Limit further and further away, intel has a much better fighting chance.

    The problem is how much does an Intel SoC cost compare to a reference design ARM made SoC in TSMC?
  • Griswold - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    Come back in a year and ask again... thats when this hits the shelves.
  • Computer Bottleneck - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the article!

    Is there any chance we could see a teardown and analysis of the Intel Medfield reference design platform in the next 6 months?

    I think it would be very interesting to compare Intel's progress in chip integration over the next few years. (ie, Compare Medfield reference platform to Silvermont reference platform to Airmont reference platform, etc)
  • jwcalla - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    I just got an ulcer thinking about how Android fragmentation is going to be taken to a whole new level.

    "There's already support for targeting both ARM and x86 architectures in the Android NDK so anything developed going forward should be ok so long as the developer is aware of x86."



    That's sunshine and lollipops right there.

    It isn't enough to worry about 4,000 different CPUs and five active versions of the OS, but now we have to worry about two completely incompatible instruction sets too. All for the glory of producing apps that make no money on this platform. Suddenly iOS seems even more attractive.
  • hechacker1 - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    It's only niche apps that require specific machine code that won't work. Otherwise the interpreted bytecode should just work.

    It's similar to when Apple moved from PPC to x86. You just had to recompile the program with the new toolchain and it would create a universal binary. Except here, it isn't even necessary to recompile the majority of the time.

    If anything, with the introduction of Android 4.0, we will finally have a common base for phones, tablets, and the one or two smart TVs. Sure it will require an upgrade for most users stuck on older unsupported Android versions, but that will come with time.
  • nofumble62 - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    the difference now is all about peripheral and IO design. The ARM advantage has shrinken to almost zero.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    Shrunken. Sorry.
  • dealcorn - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    ARM earned it's dominance of the mobile space with affordable, superior power efficiency. Now, Intel waltz's in with a 5 year old design for a space it used to know nothing about and it has superior power efficiency. Is there some reason to think this is in any way not a replay of the old Intel vs RISC story?

    It is hard to take ARM seriously when Intel's old design from a period when it was generally clueless is superior to what ARM markets today. However, we would not be here without ARM's historic contribution. Also, the market for garage door openers is not going away.
  • aury - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    "superior power efficiency"

    how is this chip superior, itt uses more power than Samsungs old A9 cortex, and Samsung's implementation isn't even the the most power efficient, let alone that the A9 is an old chip to begin with

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now