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Intel Android Portables Hardware

Android On Intel x86 Tablet Performance Explored: Things Are Improving 97

MojoKid writes: For the past few years, Intel has promised that its various low-power Atom-based processors would usher in a wave of low-cost Android and Windows mobile products that could compete with ARM-based solutions. And for years, we've seen no more than a trickle of hardware, often with limited availability. Now, that's finally beginning to change. Intel's Bay Trail and Merrifield SoCs are starting to show up more in full-featured, sub-$200 devices from major brands. One of the most interesting questions for would-be x86 buyers in the Android tablet space is whether to go with a Merrifield or Bay Trail Atom-based device. Merrifield is a dual-core chip without Hyper-Threading. Bay Trail is a quad-core variant and a graphics engine derived from Intel's Ivy Bridge Core series CPUs. That GPU is the other significant difference between the two SoCs. With Bay Trail, Intel is still employing their own graphics solution, while Merrifield pairs a dual-core CPU with a PowerVR G6400 graphics core. So, what's the experience of using a tablet running Android on x86 like these days? Pretty much like using an ARM-based Android tablet currently, and surprisingly good for any tablet in the $199 or less bracket. In fact, some of the low cost Intel/Android solutions out there currently from the likes of Acer, Dell, Asus, and Lenovo, all compete performance-wise pretty well versus the current generation of mainstream ARM-based Android tablets.
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Android On Intel x86 Tablet Performance Explored: Things Are Improving

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  • by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Thursday October 16, 2014 @11:25AM (#48160099)

    I'm really waiting for an x86 phone that can be bought in the USA. These have been available for years in India (!!!!), its really appalling that you cannot yet buy one in the US of all places.

  • Can someone recommend an inexpensive tablet for beginning Android development?
  • Power VR sucks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday October 16, 2014 @11:30AM (#48160179) Homepage Journal

    Power VR is terrible, Intel released a ton of low end Atom powered devices with Power VR GPU, but due to licencing agreements never released drivers except for the 32 bit variant of Windows 7 and never for Win 8 or Linux drivers worth a damn. Means Linux users were SOL when they tried using these machines for anything media related. And I doubt the situation with Power VR is going to be any better this time around. Avoid like the plauge any Intel hardware that's hard wired to a Power VR chip.

    • I bought one of these boards with the PowerVR crap, but I knew what I was getting into when I did. It makes a handy headless server, but aside from that it's a paperweight. I'm a bit disappointed that the Nexus Player has an Atom with a PowerVR graphics core; otherwise it would have made not only a compelling purchase on its own merits, but an awesome device that could easily be extended with different media capabilities. With the PowerVR chip it's pretty much Android or nothing.
    • The reason Intel keeps using PowerVR in those mobile chips is because it's faster than Intel's own GPU while using less power.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Heh...if it were trash, you'd not see it being one of the primary GPUs for mobile devices.

      The problem isn't PowerVR itself. It's proprietary drivers on their stuff not being available that's always been the problem. Else you'd probably be singing their praises like most do NVidia for the problem space.

      Mods, lay down the damn crack pipe...this one's not "informative", nor is it even accurate. Proof:

      Rockchip RX3168 uses SGX GPU [imgtec.com]
      Apple uses SGX in their iPads... [anandtech.com]
      Ingenic uses it with their MIPS Android SOC [eetimes.com]
      Media [xbitlabs.com]

    • If you actually read the article you would see that the PowerVR GPU performs better than the Intel graphics

  • The biggest proble (Score:4, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday October 16, 2014 @11:54AM (#48160441) Journal
    The biggest problem for Intel in the mobile space is they don't really know how to make radio hardware. Qualcomm and TI are kicking their trash as far as that is concerned.

    But their emulation technology is really impressive.
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      The biggest problem for Intel in the mobile space is they don't really know how to make radio hardware. Qualcomm and TI are kicking their trash as far as that is concerned.

      Infineon (owned by Intel) is a pretty big player in the mobile market as well. And while it's true Intel doesn't do radios, they bought Infineon for that reason.

      Of course, a lot of phones are using Qualcomm SoCs so naturally they want to use Qualcomm modems and bundle it together (along with an Qualcomm (Atheros) WiFi/Bluetooth chipset).

      • Infineon (owned by Intel) is a pretty big player in the mobile market as well. And while it's true Intel doesn't do radios, they bought Infineon for that reason.

        That's true, I'm not sure why we haven't seen them integrated yet.

        • I vaguely recall that the problem might be the manufacturing. Intel's top fabs have been doing pure digital circuitry for decades. Integrating RF onto an SoC means doing mixed-mode circuitry. Doing that in their top process nodes that have really been designed to do just one thing (large amounts of identical tiny switching transistors) may be more difficult than it seems.
  • I couldn't care less what processor is in my phone or tablet. I only care if my phone or tablet can do what I want it to do. I suspect that I'm in the majority here. So, Intel, please explain to me why it matters whether my devices contain ARM or x86 architecture?

    • I have no affiliation with Intel, but here's your answer: Most Android apps are written in DALVIK and, for those, it really doesn't matter. It does, however, matter for native C/C++ apps, or apps utilizing native C/C++ components; if there's only an ARM build for the app you use, you don't want an x86 CPU.
      • I have no affiliation with Intel, but here's your answer: Most Android apps are written in DALVIK and, for those, it really doesn't matter. It does, however, matter for native C/C++ apps, or apps utilizing native C/C++ components; if there's only an ARM build for the app you use, you don't want an x86 CPU.

        This is mostly an issue with games, since they're the apps that push the performance boundaries enough that it makes sense to write native code.

        So a less-technical but almost as correct answer is: If you buy an Intel tablet some games won't run on it until the game developers get around to building for Intel. How long that takes depends in large part on how many Intel tablets are sold.

        • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

          Depends on which classes of apps you're talking about there. There's more than just games that use NDK code. That stuff..you're screwed on unless the vendor gets around to making an X86 version.

          This is Intel trying to stay relevant against ARM...which is encroaching on their server space. If Intel weren't pushing all the green blow around for the vendors to take up, subsidizing these things, you'd not see X86 devices in the Android space.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          [Emulation slowdown due to the developer's refusal to recompile an ARM NDK app for x86] is mostly an issue with games, since they're the apps that push the performance boundaries enough that it makes sense to write native code.

          I thought the Android NDK wasn't intended for performance [android.com] as much as for sharing the model [wikipedia.org] (application logic and data access) code with versions of the application made for other platforms. You don't want to have to write in C++ once and then rewrite it line-by-line by hand in Java for two reasons: hand translation is more likely to introduce bugs, and it doesn't pick up on changes made to the original version (the Don't Repeat Yourself principle).

          • You still get extra performance even if you don't want it. I'm not aware of any widespread execution environment for Java that would utilize SIMD code, and in addition to that, languages like C++ at least give you more control of your memory layout which is increasingly important for performance these days. Even if NDK isn't designed for performance, as long as the application runs native code compiled from a somewhat lower-level language like C, the app itself can be designed for performance.

            What they prob

          • by Teckla ( 630646 )

            I thought the Android NDK wasn't intended for performance [android.com] as much as for sharing the model [wikipedia.org] (application logic and data access) code with versions of the application made for other platforms.

            A quote from the URL you linked to:

            Typical good candidates for the NDK are CPU-intensive workloads such as game engines, signal processing, physics simulation, and so on.

            So, according to that page, the NDK is largely made available for performance.

            • by tepples ( 727027 )
              The part of that page that confused me is right above what you quoted: "Notably, using native code on Android generally does not result in a noticable performance improvement."
              • by Teckla ( 630646 )

                The part of that page that confused me is right above what you quoted: "Notably, using native code on Android generally does not result in a noticable performance improvement."

                Yeah, I agree that the page is confusing. It seems to contradict itself. My guess is they consider games a special case, or something.

                A friend of mine does iPhone and Android development and his comment is that NDK is basically a requirement for any non-trivial games on Android.

      • Yes, this is a great point. I do care, but in the opposite way that Intel wants me to. Many of the apps I use are native, and all of the apps I write for Android are native. So, I doubt I will ever use an x86 based device. Unless there is some super-special advantage to what Intel is offering, the pain and impact of the change would be too much.

    • by RingDev ( 879105 )

      There are some apps that are Windows/Adroid only. In order to run them side-by-side, you need some form of virtualization. Blue Stacks, Andyroid, etc...

      The trick though, is that the Android VMs for Windows require a CPU and BIOS that support virtualization. Which means to pull this off, you explicitly need to know what processor (and BIOS) is in your phone or tablet.

      -Rick

    • Its all about that sweet sweet binary compatibility ... with windows 3.11

  • As I understand it Intel is doing everything they can to make all the Google Play apps work on their Android implementation. How is that working out?
    • by tepples ( 727027 )
      Any Dalvik-only app runs unchanged. NDK apps whose publisher recompiles them and submits an x86 APK will run correctly. NDK apps whose publisher is unwilling to recompile them run in an emulator called Houdini; Slashdot has run stories about this emulator such as this from June of this year [slashdot.org].

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