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E-350 redux


April 26 2011

I recently posted a blog about the AMD Zacate E-350. In that blog post, I compared the E-350 to the Intel Atom. In this post, as well as comparing it to the Atom, I will also compare it to some of Intel's more expensive offerings. Going to Notebook check, I compared the Zacate with some Intel Processors with a similar TDP (energy usage). Here is the results of my informal comparison:
Maker   Name            TDP     price   PI-32M  3DMark 06
Intel   i7-2657M        17      317      751    2546
Intel   i3-380UM        18      ?       1719    1426
Intel   i3-330UM        18      ?       1876 	1310
AMD     E-350           18      < 129   2475    1015 
Intel   Atom N455        6.5    64      4523     156
In this chart, the PI-32M is the number of seconds needed to calculate 32 million digits of Pi; lower numbers are better. 3D mark numbers record 3D performance; higher numbers are better.

The OEM price for an E-350 is not readily available, but a motherboard with the E-350 chipset is available for $129; I would guess that an E-350 costs about the same or a little more than the Atom N455.

As we can see, Intel is perfectly capable of making chips that have better performance using the same amount of energy. Intel's disadvantage is that they are not doing this cheaply; their high-performance 18W processors use a more expensive 32nm process (compared to the 40nm process used by the E-350 and the 45nm process of the N455).

It would appear that Intel is not interested in filling the gap between their inexpensive Atom processors and their more lucrative core series processors. Their Atom processors are handicapped in a number of ways: they are using a 45nm process while other Intel processors use 32nm; the highest TDP used by an Atom is 13W (for the D525); the maximum memory that an Atom can use is only 2Gb; and the graphics chipset included with the Atom is lackluster at best.

While details about the up and coming Atom Cedar Trail are not public yet, one source shows that Intel is not going to lift the 2Gb limitation with the next-generation Atom chips. While the next-generation Atoms should match the E-350 in terms of CPU speed--indeed the D525 is almost as fast as the E-350 right now--they will probably not match its GPU speed, and they will continue to have their memory capacity crippled.

Quite frankly, it seems to me that Intel does not want to make a low-cost processor that is perceived as being fast enough for mainstream computer use. Intel looks more interested in making their Atoms use less power for the same amount of performance than in giving their Atoms more performance--the Pineview (N450, N455) series of Atoms did not have significantly better performance than the previous generation of Atom chips. When Intel talks about their Cedar Trail Atoms, they talk about better performance at specialized tasks such as video decoding more than about better general performance; they also are emphasizing the ability to make fanless computers with the next generation of Atom chips.

AMD, on the other hand, is marketing their E-350 as a general-purpose chip that costs less and uses less power. Their is no crippled memory limitation; these chips support up to 8Gb, more than enough for most daily computing tasks. Indeed, unlike the Intel Atom, a number of mainstream computer makers (Acer, Toshiba, etc.) are making 15" laptops with the E-350 chipset. In addition, Lenovo is making the C205 desktop computer with an E-350.

Mainstream computer users want an affordable computer they feel is not crippled. While the netbook form factor works very well for some users (I personally don't like anything bigger than 11" because it's too big to readily carry around or to use on an airplane), many find it too small (and the 1024x600 display most common with netbooks is not compatible with a lot of software).

The E-350 works very well for people who want something with the Atom's price but without the Atom's limitations. It's unfortunate that Intel does not appear interested in filling the gap between the Atom chip (perceived by many as underpowered) and their "core" mainstream chips.

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