Intel's march into the ultra mobile space has been a frustrating one. Architecturally Intel has the chops to play in the market, but its execution has been met with challenges. At first Intel seemed to bet too heavily on non-Android OSes (primarily Windows tablets) and now its challenge seems to be more an issue of getting its designs into the market quickly and ultimately used by OEMs. The Android tablet space in particular is in a race to the bottom, leaving little room for another premium SoC vendor outside of Qualcomm. Intel recently announced a new family of lower cost, entry-level Bay Trail SoCs to help adjust to the changing market, but today it announced an even more aggressive play: a strategic partnership with Rockchip.

Rockchip is one of a handful of fabless semiconductor manufacturers based in China, presently specializing in the development of ARM based mobile SoCs. Under today's announcement however, Intel will be leveraging Rockchip to bring a low cost (entry/value) Intel branded SoC platform for tablets (read: sub-$150 Android tablets with connectivity). 

Intel first started talking to Rockchip about this agreement a "couple quarters" ago. There are two primary motivations behind the agreement: it gives Intel additional resources to bring products to the market, and it allows Intel to scale IA based Android tablets pretty quickly.

By the middle of 2015 Intel and Rockchip will launch a new SoFIA SoC, featuring four Intel Atom cores and an Intel 3G modem. From the text of the announcement, it sounds like Intel will be providing the IP for the SoC while Rockchip will handle the integration of the design itself:

“We are always looking for innovative ways to differentiate our product portfolio, and the first-of-its-kind collaboration with Intel helps us do this,” said Min Li, Rockchip CEO. “The combination of Intel’s leading architecture and modem technology with our leading mobile design capability brings greater choice to the growing global market for mobile devices in the entry and value segments.”

The original SoFIA roadmap had a dual-core part with integrated 3G shipping in late 2014 as well as a quad-core with LTE by the middle of 2015. For the China market, a dual-core value SoC wasn't going to fly so Intel needed to fill the hole in its roadmap with a quad-core 3G solution. A quad-core 3G part would be offered at a lower price point than the quad-core LTE option, leaving a hole in Intel's roadmap in a very price sensitive market. By partnering with Rockchip, Intel leverages some of Rockchip's design teams to bring the part to market without Intel incurring additional burden for what I can only assume will be a fairly low margin SoC. Rockchip was in around 40 million tablets last year, so this gives Intel access to a reasonable TAM as well. 

In return, Rockchip becomes the first company to be able to more or less license Intel x86 CPU IP for use in this combined, Intel-branded SoC. The low-cost ARM based SoC market is crowded and it's tough to differentiate when all of your competitors have access to the same ARM CPU IP. In this case, Rockchip gets access to Silvermont which it may be able to use to set itself apart from the competition. There's obviously a tradeoff in shipping x86 into the Android space, but if Rockchip can help Intel get its numbers up the x86 problem could reduce over time. 

Although the SoC would use the Intel brand there may be some reference to Rockchip, perhaps in the model number.

Intel wouldn't go into specifics on how the arrangement works, other than to say that Intel would work with Rockchip to do the SoC integration and Rockchip will bring its own IP to the table as well. Intel gave the example of Rockchip bringing 3rd party graphics IP to the SoC. Rockchip's existing products use ARM and Vivante GPU cores, so we may end up seeing an SoC that uses Intel x86 cores with Mali graphics.

If I'm reading this correctly it marks a big shift in Intel's approach to the mobile SoC market (and chip making in general). Intel claims the resulting SoC will be very price competitive. Leveraging Rockchip for integration likely means a substantially lower cost structure than traditional Intel SoCs. The design will continue to be fabbed at TSMC. 

Each company will focus on selling the Intel-branded part to its own customers. Intel isn't disclosing how the profit sharing/revenue reporting will work. The agreement doesn't prevent Rockchip from continuing to sell ARM based SoCs and there's no financial investment from Intel in Rockchip. 

Although there's only one product being talked about today (this quad-core Silvermont with integrated 3G), Intel stressed that the deal is strategic - implying that we should see more engagement over time. If this initial quad-core design works well, I can see Intel shifting more of its mobile SoC design integration over to Rockchip. More than anything this is a sign that Intel is willing to try something new/different, and that's absolutely what the company needs.

Source: Intel

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • factual - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    Not really! A7 is a different story but Intel has better performance compared to both A15 and the best Krait at the same or lower TDP levels:

    And your die size claims are false as well:

    Do some research before making false claims!
  • darkich - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    So what's the Bay Trail die size?
    Forgive me for missing the exact number among 373 pages of material
  • factual - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    look at page 355 of the datasheet. Die size is about 100mm^2 (9.7 x 10.4 ).
  • darkich - Thursday, May 29, 2014 - link

    Well I looked and can't see it.
    Please enlighten me!
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    I was explicitly talking about core die size, not SoC die size. Do you actually have a die size estimate for a Silvermont *core*? Here is a link with several ARM CPU die sizes vs previous Atom:

    Do you think a Silvermont core will be smaller than say a Cortex-A15 core?

    As for the Phoronix scores, these don't seem to be just a comparison of CPU performance. For example one is using an SSD, the other slow eMMC flash. Also one is a phone/tablet SoC, the other a desktop part - you won't find the J1900 in phones or tablets...

    I haven't seen K1 scores yet, but this is how the lower clocked NVidia Shield does vs Z3770 on Android:

    Based on that it's safe to say the K1 will beat Silvermont by a good margin on integer and FP benchmarks.
  • factual - Thursday, May 29, 2014 - link

    I don't know the die size of silvermont itself, but given the fact the die size of the silvermont-based SoCs are more-or-less the same as A15-based SoCs, I would say the die size of the two are comparable. Saltwell is a 5-year-old design on a 4-year-old silicon technology, I'd say its die size is pretty good for what it is!

    The phoronix comparison is actually a pretty "just" comparison, if you actually understood the numbers! J1900's TDP is 10W at maximum load, while Jetson's Tegra K1 uses 11W.

    So, J1900 has Superior performance while consuming less power.

    I tried to stay away from the poorly written mobile benchmarks and reference the accurate phoronix comparison. I can play the primelabs game too ... Comparing power-hungry Nvidia Shield to a low-power tablet is not a real comparison! Nvidia has a 30wh battery, now let's compare it to a device with the same power consumption/battery;

    Here, Z3770 completely annihilates Cortex-A15. But let's stick with the accurate phoronix benchmark.

    Silvermont is superior to Cortex-A15 by a considerable margin. Now the question is why? Some claim its only due to Intel's superior manufacturing technology, I guess we'll know when Silvermont is manufactured using Tsmc28!
  • Wilco1 - Thursday, May 29, 2014 - link

    Silvermont SoCs are far behind in GPU performance so if the SoC die size is comparable then it's a given that the GPU is smaller, while the CPUs are larger. This is also a reason why TDP for K1 appears high - has an amazingly fast GPU which takes most of the die and power.

    Phoronix comparisons have been quite wrong in the past (using old compilers, incorrect options, using different codepaths for x86 and ARM, this has been widely discussed on sites like RWT), and appear to be system benchmarks rather than CPU benchmarks, so the HD performance matters. Calling them accurate is wishful thinking. Or did you really believe that Silvermont is 8x faster doing VP8?

    As for your Geekbench link, you deliberately chose a slow Shield score - very unprofessional. I could also compare against the slowest Z3770 score one could find, however lets be fair and compare your Z3770 score with my Shield score:

    So a Z3770 is barely faster than Shield on integer (due to using hardware encryption instructions which improves the average score by 14.5%) and loses on FP - despite running at a 26% higher frequency. So that's a huge loss for Z3770. At similar frequencies A15 wins by a big margin. Can you imagine how it will compare with next generation 64-bit ARM CPUs?

    When manufactured on 28nm TSMC, Silvermont will obviously lose clock frequency. The question is how much, but it is obvious that it won't be able to compete at all given how much trouble 22nm Silvermont has just keeping up with previous generation SoCs.
  • factual - Thursday, May 29, 2014 - link

    There is discussion on the die size comparison picture you posted. The A-15 size comes from a doctored Nvidia die shot, and the real A-15 die size is actually 3.1mm^2 :

    Bay Trail die area is not just comparable to Tegra's but also exynos's and allwinnder's as well. Silvermont's die area would not be any larger than A15, if not smaller, judging by the SoC die areas.

    Phoronix is the gold standard of benchmarks; It's really laughable when you try to question Phoronix's accuracy and post results from Geekbench instead, which is a closed-source, poorly written benchmark, just like most mobile benchmarks. Phoronix is the open-source benchmark which is trusted by engineers and professionals. And yes, silvermont's performance is that much more superior compared to Cortex-A15.

    I intentionally posted that primatelabs comparison to show how inconsistent and questionable it is, at best! Here's another one comparing another Z3770 to your Nvidia shield version:

    Silvermont annihilates Cortex-A15 again!!

    Silvermont's perf/watt is without a doubt superior to A15, by a large margin. Next generation 64-bit ARM will probably catch-on to Bay Trail but by that time next generation Atom (Broxton) will be out which will widen the perf/watt gap even further. But the CPU performance alone is not that important in mobile and that's where intel has been lacking, i.e. the overal SoC's capabilities, and that problem has nothing to do with ARM!
  • Wilco1 - Friday, May 30, 2014 - link

    Different processes result in different die sizes, and one can synthesize a core for high performance or low power and get different area. So even if Samsung's A15 happen to be larger on their process, that doesn't invalidate the 1.62mm^2 Hans reported for the A15 in Tegra 4 at all.

    Again, comparing SoC area and concluding anything CPU die area is ridiculous fanboi-ism. The hard fact is Atom is several times larger than ARM cores.

    "Phoronix is the gold standard of benchmarks"!!! LOL, thanks you made my day - you clearly don't have a clue!

    Here is yet another benchmark where 1.9GHz A15 beats 2.4GHz Z3770:

    What's the excuse this time?

    Nobody has shown Silvermont to be superior than A15. After all A15 is much faster while running at a lower frequency as all the benchmarks show. I haven't seen detailed perf/W comparisons, but it looks like Tegra K1 should beat Silvermont in perf/W, despite being effectively 2 process nodes behind. A 28nm Silvermont will be far slower and with significantly worse perf/W, and yet has to compete against much faster 64-bit ARM cores like Denver, Cortex-A57 and A53 in the second half this year.
  • factual - Sunday, June 1, 2014 - link

    Of course different processes result in different size! obviously you can synthesize a soft ARM core IP for high performance or low power and get different die areas! That's why your initial claim that cortex A15 had some kind dramatic area advantage over Silvermont, without having any evidence, was so ridiculous!

    The so-called Cortex A15 die shot from Nvidia's tegra 4 marketing picture looks identical to the Cortex A9 die shot from tegra 4i, proving it to be fake! Nvidia has been routinely using doctored/fake die shots as pre-release marketing material:

    Nvidia using fake die shots for pre-release marketing purposes is completely understandable, but what is not understandable is using these marketing shots to make technical claims about die areas!! Also given the lack of any hard facts regarding Silvermont or Cortex A15 die areas (ones synthesized for similar power specs), comparing SoC die areas, which are actually specified in the datasheet, is the only logical thing to do.

    You are the fanboi here, who despite all the evidence, continue your baseless claims regarding the non-existent "ARM advantage"! All the evidence points to absolute perf/watt superiority of Silvermont over Cortex A15 and the claim (often espoused by ARM fanbois who are generally ignorant when it comes to technical knowledege) that Intel woes in the mobile market have to do with the "power efficient" ARM cores is patently false!

    I guess it's expected that a fanboi, with very little technical understanding, would "lol" at Phoronix; but developers, engineers and professionals consider Phoronix the gold standard of benchmarks:

    Although the Phoronix benchmark is comparing a silvermont core clocked at a lower frequency than the Tegra's Cortex A15, but the clock speed of the cores don't matter at all! Cyclone clocked at 1.3Ghz outperforms both Silvermont and A15. What matters is perf/watt and that's it!

    The compression benchmark you posted only shows Silvermont widely outperforming the Exynos cortex A15 but equaling the performance (outperforming compression, under-performing decompression) of an unknown Corex A15 with unknown power consumption ... So what's the point! At least the not-so-reliable geekbench benchmark you posted earlier tested all aspects of the cpu!

    While I prefer the reliable Phoronix benchmark due it's known power specs and reliability of the benchmark suite, all the other not-so-reliable mobile benchmark show silvermont wildly outperforming Cortex A15 as well:

    At this point the huge superiority of Silvermont over Cortex A15 is undeniable. But educating a fanboi who refuses to learn and is in denial is really impossible.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now