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Intel Merrifield Reference Phone Shows Platform's Potential

This week, Intel turned heads when it announced its new Intel Atom Z3400 "Merrifield" platform for mobile. Targeted at smartphones and some tablets, the new dual-core SoCs promise performance that's on a par with, or better than, leading mobile chips from Qualcomm and Apple. While we're not able to test a production-level Merrifield-powered phone just yet, we did have the opportunity to spend a few moments with an Intel Reference Design Phone with the 2.13-GHz Atom Z3480 chip and  we got to go over some of Intel's internal test results.

The phone we handled had a 4.5-inch, 720p display, 2GB of RAM and the aforementioned Atom Z3480 Merrifield SoC,along with Intel's XMM 7160 modem. The phone had a rather bland square shiny black body rimmed with boring white-plastic sides with a 13-MP camera on the back and a 2-MP shooter facing front. It ran a very stock version of Android Jellybean, without any special skins or even the special camera software necessary to shoot with both lenses at once, a feature of Merrifield that we've also seen on a number of ARM-powered phones from Samsung and LG.

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Despite its blandness, the reference phone offered smooth performance as we navigated around the UI, launched the camera and swiped through apps. Thanks to its PowerVR G6400 graphics, the phone provided smooth, detailed 3D graphics both when we played Temple Run and when we strolled through a virtual world in the Epic Citadel app. 

Though we did not have time to take the reference phone and run tests on it ourselves, Intel's own results provide some guidelines. When running WebXPRT, a synthetic test that measures Web browsing and application support, Intel's handset scored 2.38 (higher is better), slightly outpacing an iPhone 5S with Apple's A7 chip (2.05)  and soundly beating a Samsung Galaxy S4 with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 CPU (2.38).

On MobileXPRT 2013's Android Light Media Editing workload, the Z3480-powered Intel phone edged out the Samsung Galaxy S4, by a score of 1.87 to 1.29. The iPhone could not run this test.

On the BatteryXPRT 2014 test, which simulates several common activities such as scrolling through the UI, going to sleep for a while and performing other offline tasks, the Intel phone lasted a strong 19.2 hours on a charge, which is significantly longer than both the Galaxy S4 (14.5 hours) and Sony Xperia Z1F (16.9 hours), both of which had higher capacity batteries and Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processors. All of these phones would have lower endurance on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi.

When Intel ran  GFXBench 2.7, a synthetic test which measures graphics performance, the Merrifield reference phone returned a frame rate of 66 fps (higher is better), which is significantly higher than the iPhone 5S's 57 fps, but just a tad lower than the Galaxy S4's 69 fps rate. This shows that Intel's chip should be neck and neck with competitors in terms of graphics, but not necessarily ahead of the field.

It almost goes without saying that all these results come from Intel's internal tests, using synthetic benchmarks in ideal conditions. We'll only know how fast and power efficient Merrifield really is when we get a shipping product in our lab, hopefully sometime in the first half of 2014.