This Atom Z3745D-based HDMI dongle is ready to plug into your TV or monitor. It will be pre-installed with Windows 8.1 or Linux and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of on-board storage, a standard USB port and a micro SD card slot for extra storage. A Micro-USB port is also on board for power supply. Basically it’s a Baytrail-T tablet without the screen, battery and speakers.
CES is huge, scary, entertaining, unhealthy and informative all at the same time but I really wish I was there. The advantage of being in the office this year though is that even if it’s 3am I can wade through a ton of feeds to pick out relevant news items. Here are the news items I haven’t blogged in full today, Day 1 of CES 2015.
Intel are introducing new Core M SoC variants. All have higher base clockrates on the CPU and GPU which indicates that the quality emerging from the Core M production process is increasing. That means yields for the low-end Core M models are increasing and that ultimately, prices can start to trend down. The new SKUs are: Core M-5Y10c, Core M-5Y31, Core M-5Y51 and the Core M-5Y71.
All new models have the same 4.5W base TDP but, for consumers, the performance of a Core M under normal conditions is going to depend on internal thermal ‘headroom.’ In fact the TDP figure is largely useless now due to burst TDP and configurations that can increase or increase the TDP.
Core M 5Y10c 800 MHz-2 GHz , GPU: HD 5300 300 / 800 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP
Core M 5Y51 1.1 / 2.6 GHz, GPU: HD 5300 300 / 900 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP
Core M 5Y71 1.2/ 2.9 GHz, GPU: HD 5300 300 / 900 MHz, 4.5 Watt TDP
Core M is available in a number of PCs already (we keep a list of Core M mobile PCs here) and inital feedback is that it’s not quite as good in these products as we saw in demonstrations at IDF in September. The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro offers class leading thickness and weight for a 2-in-1 but performance sits somewhere between Atom and the performance seen in Ultrabooks. Some products are including eMMC storage too.
The 14nm ‘y-series’ Broadwell SoC is a big help to PC designers that want to offer think designs at light weight and we see it evolving into Celeron and Pentium branded designs for fanless low-cost laptops and Chromebooks during 2015.
The Intel Core M processor, officially launched last week, offers Ultrabook performance in a processing unit that’s about half the size of the current CPUs found in Ultrabooks with a 6W TDP profile. What does that mean? I’ve seen it benchmarked to Ultrabook performance levels on an 680gram fanless tablet. It works!
In an Intel-led Core M benchmarking meeting today I saw a set of controlled benchmarks from a 6W TDP Core M product. The tests were performed in an 685 gram 12.5-inch Llama Mountain reference tablet with a machined aluminum rear casing that is optimal for this design. We also saw a copper-based rear casing that can handle a lot more thermal energy but you won’t see that happening in consumer products. The benchmark scores we saw were more than I had expected.
Note that these are the scores from a high-end 6W TDP Core M 5Y70. The 4.5W TDP Core M SoCs won’t perform this well and in a product with a less-than-perfect thermal design there could be heat issues that prevent Turbo Boost reaching these high levels.
GPU performance needs to be further tested and long-term gaming could impact Turbo Boost capability.
This is the best you’ll see from Core M at 2.8 2.6 Ghz but it’s important to remember that this is best-of-Core M right now. I’m going to be pushing to get the new Lenovo Helix 2 in for testing so at that point we’ll get our first real-product results.
Update: I had seconds to get pics of the 8 Core M laptops before they were pulled off the stage. Can you match the devices to the product names?!
Core, at 4.5W TDP is going to enable fanless computing and finally, thin and light powerful tablets.
In my opinion we’ve just entered a more difficult world of performance testing as from what I’ve seen, 50% of the performance of this platform relies on Turbo Boost which hinges on thermal design. I look forward to going deep and getting hands-on ASAP!
Here’s the Lenovo Helix 2 that I had hands-on with earlier today. (For Notebookcheck.net)
I’ll try and track down the other devices after the keynnote.
NewsComments Off on 8 Intel Core-M laptops just got announced. (Intel IFA 2014 keynote update)
Intel’s Core M reminds me of a moment in 2008 when I briefly tested a Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium. It was one of the few UMPCs around that used a Core Solo processor instead of the very low-end pre-Atom CPUs and it was a breakthrough in handheld PC performance. Core M is going to allow manufacturers to make exactly the same sort of breakthrough from ‘just enough’ into mainstream performance on a handheld PC except this time it’s fanless. Core M is going to be the first CPU that allows manufacturers to make different types of tablet PC without the compromises of size, heat and noise that have been associated with previous high-power Windows tablets.
That much was clear from early information we got about the Core M / Broadwell Y processing platform at Computex. A 600 gram 10-inch tablet running ‘Core’ without fans is special but yesterday Intel gave us more details about how they’ve achieved performance, sizing and TDP improvements.
Before we sing the praises of fanless Windows tablets too loud let us consider the Surface Pro 3 vs the HP Pro X2 410. Both of these use Core i5 CPUs but the HP Pro X2 is fanless. It also gets hot and throttles the performance so much that you can easily get into situations where an Atom-based tablet might be better. The latest Core CPUs use thermal measurements to calculate short-term CPU overclocking but if the system gets too hot, you end up with an under-clocked system. It means that the Surface Pro 3, which has a quiet fan, is much, much more powerful than the HP Pro X2. Fanless systems can be a disadvantage.
We don’t quite know how much Core M devices will be affected by throttling yet. Larger devices with more airspace, and I expect to see some interesting 12-13-inch designs soon, will have the advantage over thinner designs with less ‘thermal headroom’ but leading edge designs may be able to squeeze more out of the platform. This slide from Intel is really worth studying. In it you can see how device thickness impacts on the TDP limits. At the extremes, that’s with a 7mm thick 10-inch design, you’ve got just 3W of TDP to play with. Ambient temperature becomes more critical too and I demonstrated that with the HP Pro X2 410 in my review at Notebookcheck.
What is certain though is that in terms of marketing, Core M-based fanless Windows tablets will offer some real differentiators. Light weight, thin designs, silent operation and, you can be sure, 1.6-2.4Ghz clock ranges will sound impressive. Underclocking to 600Mhz won’t be in the list of features though so we’ll have to look carefully at the first tests. I’ll certainly be looking out for this when I attend the Intel Developer Forum in September.
Core M tablets and 2-in-1s will be high-end devices. They need to be to cover the costs of this leading edge CPU on its new manufacturing process. Although Intel says that the “14 nm product yield is now in healthy range” and that considering the 14nm process produces more chips per wafer you can guarantee that Broadwell-Y will have lower yield than other SKUs. Each one will have to be carefully tested to see if it meets Intel’s standards.
Those high-end devices will offer some nice features though. Although there are Atom-based platforms that offer reasonable Gen-7 Intel graphics and Intel Quick Sync video hardware the CPU and video processing here is going to be in another league. It’s not desktop-gaming capable but it’s certainly going to enable fast ‘Pro-Am’ 1080p video editing and rendering. GPGPU acceleration for HTML5 is also likely to be in a different league meaning the ever-important Web applications will be faster. Given that gaming capability is not a key feature the platform would match requirements for a high-end Chromebook quite nicely. There’s power here for some impressive X86 Android gaming experiences too and we shouldn’t forget that Core M won’t be just for Windows, at least when the pricing comes down.
In terms of battery life Intel have revealed a few features and optimisations that could help significantly in some scenarios. Video playback and typing, as I’m doing here, should get a significant battery-life boost from the optimised power control elements in the new platform. TDP is said to down by up to ‘2x’ (meaning 3W TDP SKUs are probably in the pipeline) for the same performance level. That’s impressive. Due to die size reductions there’s more space for battery too although it’s likely that some of this space needs to be used for airflow improvements. Given the cost of batteries I wouldn’t expect any increases. On the contrary, you might see battery sizes reduce on the lower-end and thinner products.
You’ll find a detailed analysis at the new Broadwell architechture over at Anandtech so don’t forget to check that out too.
In summary the Core M range of SoCs, like other ‘Y-series’ or ‘SDP’ oriented designs will offer a lot to the designer and a lot to the marketing manager and we’ll have to be careful to analyse what this really translates to in terms of performance for power users. There may not be enough in Core M to run a complete daily desktop experience and for consumers, the prices could be high but thin and light fanless designs are critical and it looks like Intel have enabled a product range that can offer that. Given some good, showcase designs – and the ASUS Transformer Book Chi could be one of them – there could be enough here to elevate Intel-based tablets into a unique position and that’s exactly what Intel need. Core M is the differentiator-enabler.
Although I wasn’t at Computex last week I covered it like a hawk both here and at Ultrabooknews. Yesterday I went through the complete video recording of the Intel mobility keynote and it was well worth it. If you have any interest in mobile computing at all you should watch the whole video, embedded below. The first part of the video is about gaming, AIO and 4K monitors. There’s some impressive stuff going on there but that’s not what I want to focus on. Skip past that (about 12 minutes in) and it’s tablets, 2-in-1s, RealSense, WiGig, wireless charging, Llama Mountain and even a new Acer 2-in-1 that will come at a $199 price point, possibly. Here’s some detail, background and thoughts on what I saw.
Llama Mountain and the Core-M announcement (made in the Day 1 keynote) were the main topic of discussion on most sites covering the events but I noticed a few additional points worth highlighting. Core-M at 10-inch will have “about twice the performance of an arm tablet.” By saying that, Intel have admitted that their Core-M brand is in the same fighting ring as ARM. That’s not good for Core in my opinion. Core-M is a re-branding of the Y-series Core i3/i5/i7 that we’ve seen before on Ivy Bridge and Haswell. It’s down clocked with tight ‘Turbo’ controls and it gives designers an easier and cheaper way to work with Core in the mobile PC arena. Interestingly for my websites is that it bridges the two by crossing over both Baytrail and Core U-series (Ultrabook) solutions. What’s not exactly clear here is whether Core-M is just Broadwell Y-series or whether it will cover some high-end Atom products too. If it does it will be quite the trick. Personally I think it’s just Broadwell Y for powerful tablets and 2-in-1s. Note that this is not just a Windows play. Android is included and I suspect Chromebooks/tabs too. The Llama Mountain 10-inch reference design with Core-M at 550 grams is impressive. We’ve seen Clovertrail and Baytrail-based 10-inch tablets at this weight but not Y-series. I have a Y-series Haswell fanless tablet here and it’s heavy so this is a great step forward. 600 grams is the maximum I think that any tablet (of any size that targets consumers) should be. Llama Mountain is impressive and inspiring and Intel should turn this into a developer kit item (and of course, give them away at their developer conference in September!)
One product that really opened my eyes was this. Intel say that this Acer product, which I’m sure is a 2-in-1 due to the frame controls, will come to market for $199. $199 for a 2-in-1? They’ve just launched the Switch 10 at …but wait a minute. This is the Switch 10! Did Kirk accidentally pick up the wrong device on stage? How can they make it cheaper than most cheap 8-inch Windows tablets? The lowest cost netbooks cost $199. This can’t be right? If it is right, it might even be wrong to do this from a business perspective.
I was hoping for WiGig news at Computex but I wasn’t expecting Intel to put their weight behind it like this. Intel wants to be “number 1 in WiGig silicon in the world” TX/RX. WiGig (more info) is important and could enabled CPU-less tablets if it works out as planned. “…We’ll build reference designs to eliminate all cables from Ultrabook and 2-in-1 PCs.” This is something Intel are planning post-Broadwell and it not only allows a tablet to be thinner but it could save a lot of costs. Get an integrated WiFi/WiGig card inside and you save a lot of port, space and design costs. Waterproofing becomes easier too. Expect some sort of demo mid-late next year. Intel’s WiGig silicon is known as Maple Peak. WiGig docking is coming in the first half of 2015. (Actually it’s already available from Dell but I think Intel is referring to docks made with Intel inside.
On WiDI – the consumer-grade screen mirroring and extending solution – Intel highlighted a new product from Actiontec. Screenbeam Mini 2 is looking like the Chromecast of WiDi solutions and it’s badly needed. Current solutions are big , expensive and problematic. The Screenbeam Mini launched in Taiwan during Computex and is on sale there for about $US 50. It needs to be cheaper in my opinion but maybe this version 2 is going to reduce the price. My Actiontec ScreenBeam testing here.
It’s noteworthy that Intel said that WiDi is the “best Miracast experience. ” They’ve taken second row on wireless display. I don’t like wireless charging. It’s very lossy and that goes against the grain when it comes to by focus on efficient computing. However, having seen the 20W charging pad working with an Ultrabook I may be about to change my mind. The Dell Venue 8 Pro was demonstrated with wireless charging too and it’s all under A4WP standards.
Also worth seeing is the RealSense live beautifying webcam demo. Check it out in the video.
Intel are currently presenting on stage at Computex. The press-release reveals what’s about to be demonstrated.
The world’s first 14nm fanless mobile PC reference design from Intel is a 12.5 inch screen that is 7.2mm thin with keyboard detached and weighs 670 grams. The innovative design is based on the first of Intel’s next-generation 14nm Broadwell processors, purpose-built for 2 in 1s and will be in market later this year. Called the Intel® Core™ M processor, it will deliver the most energy efficient Core processor in the company’s history.
So it looks like the days of the U-series processor are over. Perhaps the Y-series too. More importantly it looks like ASUS have used the Intel reference design in their Transformer Book Chi product. Both have a 12.5-inch screen. Both use the ‘next-generation’ Intel core. One is 7.3mm thick, the other is 7.2mm thick. OK, maybe the casing is different!
Update: The reference device is known as Llama Mountain.
Following my Windows 8.1 and Android KitKat tests with the Intel N2820 NUC I installed the software that this mini-pc is really ideal for. XBMCbuntu and Openelec are Linux-based distributions that are built purely to run the XBMC media center software. These well-developed OS builds for a mature application and for the average user are a perfect match and I’ve had success with both. The Openelec build even allows the cost to be kept down to about $160 / 140 Euro
XBMC, a project that has its roots in original hacked Xbox hardware, is a multi-platform, free software suite that provides video and audio library and playback facilities, a PVR front-end (to software like MythTV that can control TV and satellite cards.) It has a large-screen interface and can be controlled by various remote means including infra-red, app, keyboard and game controllers. It is very network-aware which allows content to be indexed from many sources. Add-on software allows libraries to be enhanced with rich content, fan-art, community information and also allows internet-based content to be access. Podcasts, radio streams, YouTube and many other content sources are supported out of the box.
In this article I’m testing the latest ‘Gotham’ releases of XBMC.
What’s the difference between XBMCbuntu and Openelec?
XBMCbuntu is a complete Linux operating system distribution set-up in such a way that XBMC auto-runs when booted. Standard features of Ubuntu Linux are included which allows the user to run other services (web server, NAS etc.) and to use the desktop in addition to XBMC. Openelec is a very reduced Linux OS that is intended to allow XBMC to run on low-power and small storage PC builds. For example, in this case we’re running Openelec from a cheap USB stick which allows us to ignore the need for a hard drive. There’s little scope for running anything other than XBMC within Openelec.
2G Memory Kingston ACR16D3LS1NGG/2G – $(recovered from an upgrade. A modern equivalent is going to be around $20)
For an XBMCbuntu or Windows 8.1 build I recommend an SSD. I’m using a MydigitalSSD BP4 240GB part but a 64GB version of this fast SSD is just $60. It helps to speed up boot, database updates and to keep power and noise levels low.
Remote – Xbox 360-compatible remote. (a remote won’t cost more than $20)
USB stick for Openelec – (You’re likely to have one lying around!)
Installing XBMCbuntu on the Intel N2820 NUC
I installed XBMCbuntu to the SSD but installed Openelec to a USB stick, which obviously negates the need for an internal drive. I used the Gigabit Ethernet port for Internet connectivity but an Intel Centrino WiFi module is also included. An infra-red transceiver is already mounted in the NUC (which means you must have it in line-of-sight to the IR remote control.)
XBMC install was very simple. A how-to video is shown below.
The rest of the install process is self explanatory but on my system – pre installed with Windows 8.1 and using UEFI boot system – it rebooted straight into Windows. I had to reboot, press F10 and go to the boot menu to select to correct boot drive. Having Windows 8.1 and XBMCbuntu on a NUC isn’t likely to be a common scenario but I have it here because of the testing I’m doing.
Performance is great. Libraries seem to update very quickly considering the amount of data I have on my remote drives. I used a combination of UPnP from my NAS and SMB shares from my NAS because via SMB I was able to tag the directory a data type and let, for example, a movie database plugin scan all my films and add metadata to them. For audio I used uPnP as I was able to link artists and genres as separate directories. I’m still experimenting with network protocols.
In terms of video playback performance I was impressed to see every single one of my Carrypad video test files play. From simple DivX through WMV and H.264 to complex MTS containers with H.264, AC3 sound and subtitles. Videos from the local network all started quickly and I saw no tearing or sync issues. In terms of bitrate performance I saw only one issue with a 25Mbps-30Mbs H.264 fullHD file at 50FPS with Dolby AC3 that was taken direct from a camera recording. During the 90-second video if needed to buffer once so it looks like either some buffering settings need to be adjusted or I need to ensure that my NAS and network is performance correctly.
Under XBMCbuntu I was not able to configure Wi-Fi and I could not get any response from my basic or my Xbox 360 (3rd party) remote control. The XBOX 360 remote worked under the Openelec build (below.)
Video: Testing 30Mbps file here. (On this video it works better than I describe above, possibly because I was working on the same switch as my NAS. Other tests were performed in my living room where the NAS is behind a second router. )
YouTube 1080p performance appears good although I was only able to see 720p versions of most files. 4K content was delivered as 720p despite having the YouTube app set up to request 1080p On my 100Mbps internet connection there were no delays. Other video apps tested: TED, Revision 3, Twit and a few others. I did not test any locally stored content so am not able to give an ‘upper limit’ on, for example, H.264 decode bitrate.
In terms of music content I have a very large library and have been accessing it via a UPnP share. Initial tests seem to indicate that it’s usable but more testing is needed here as I’m in a transition phase where I’m also testing the Xbox Music streaming and offline service. XBox Music streaming services are not supported on XBMC. (See notes below on DRM content.)
Boot up time (after selecting the boot partition manually in the BIOS) was around 15 seconds. (Note: This is on a fast SSD.)
No lock-ups or crashes were experienced during the testing period.
Video: Installing XBMC via XBMCbuntu on an Intel N2820 NUC
Low-Cost: Openelec on the Intel N2820 NUC
For the Openelec test I used a small USB stick as the boot media (created automatically using the Live image creator) and a 4GB USB stick as the permanent ‘disk.’ For more details on the installimstall process, which is very simple, are available in this guide.
Due to the system running from a relatively slow USB stick I experienced occasional freezing on the UI. In some cases of mapping new content into the system this was 10 seconds or more. In normal playback usage I didn’t experience any serious freezing.
Out of the box, so to speak, I had a better remote control experience. A third-party XBOX 360 remote worked although as you’d expect, it turned on both the NUC and the XBOX at the same time. You’ll need to keep your XBOX turned off while you use XBMC!
DVDs I tested worked although there were some buffering issues experienced. I’m not sure why but maybe the decrypting process isn’t that efficient? I have yet to watch a full film through so beware that there could be hidden issues that I haven’t experienced yet. DVD menus worked OK.
Video playback performance was good as long as the network could keep up. In my living room I connected via Gigabit Ethernet but saw a few buffering issues with a 30Mbps H.264 file. You’ll have to make sure your routers, switched and NAS are fit for the job if you want to deliver high bit-rate files. This could be an issues for those of you wanting to play FullHD or 4K files made with home video equipment. As with XBCMbuntu I successfully tested a suite of about 20 remote files ranging from low-bitrate to high-bitrate H.264, MPEG-2, DivX, WMV and various containers including MKV files with subtitle content. H.264 encoding seems to be the best solution for high-quality HD content.
The NUC has a quiet fan inside. I didn’t detect any noise or fan spin-up during testing (3 meters away from TV.)
OpenELEC Stable – Generic x86_64 Version:4.0.0 used for this test available here.
XBMC and the issue with modern digital media.
XBMC and other open-source media centers are good for those with a lot of local content but there’s an issue for those that don’t have local films and music and this problem gets bigger as time goes on. Over the last 10 years most of us bought our films on DVD. Recently we’ve started to buy HD films on Blu-Ray too but we’re also starting to use streaming services a lot more. TV shows, music videos and the music itself in these service is almost always controlled via a digital rights management system. While it’s acceptable to make a personal backup of a personally owned DVD in some countries (not in the USA) it’s not permissible to break DRM on streaming content that you rent. In order for pure and DRM content to be accessible via the same program the media centers need to implement closed DRM standards in order to support protected content playback. Unfortunately that’s rare in an open-source system. I know many of you avoid DRM (and for the target audience for XBMC maybe this streaming issue is a non-issue) but it needs to be said so that the average person is aware that XBMC is not a modern all-encompassing digital media player.
There are some reasons to have a media center if you haven’t got any local video content. Digital audio files are generally DRM-free and there’s a lot of online video content out there on services like YouTube that could keep someone happy for years but wouldn’t it be better just to buy a Chromecast stick, or similar, for $35? Or how about just connecting your Android, IOS or Windows phone to the TV so you can run whatever program is needed. It’s not a fully integrated front-end but it’s pretty easy to switch apps these days. Although I haven’t tested it yet you can even run XBMC as an Android app.
Alternative: XBMC / Windows tablet solutions.
I seems to me that a hybrid solution is needed to cover all forms of modern digital media and to that end I took a cheap Windows 8 tablet and tested XBMC alongside my music streaming service from Microsoft and my wife’s video streaming services from Amazon. The Windows 8 solution I chose is now available for just $215. The Acer Iconia W4 has HDMI output, can be remotely controlled via a Bluetooth keyboard, accesses the network via built-in WiFi and charges over a USB port.
If you want to connect over Gigabit Ethernet, that works via a USB adaptor (although you’ll lose charging unless you buy a data+charge solution or buy a larger Windows tablet with separate charge and USB ports.)
I also tried Miracast wireless display to have an XBMC-in-the-hand experience. While Miracast is a terrible way to use an interactive user-interface on a remote screen (due to at least 100ms latency) it’s actually possible to use a tablet with a Full-HD screen in mirrored mode and just use the touch UI on the tablet. I tested the Lenovo Miix 2 10 and it worked well and played a 2Mbps film over WiFi. Miracast isn’t good for environments with poor WiFi or for gaming or any other UI-interactive application as the Miracast solution has too much latency for that and I wouldn’t recommend Miracast as a permanent solution. A Windows tablet with HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet adaptor and a remote Bluetooth keyboard is the best way to do the Windows / XBMC hybrid solution.
An Android-based alternative could be to use XBMC on a powerful tablet with Miracast capability or to use an Android box. Given that Android 4.4 works on the Intel NUC I have it could be a good follow-up test.
XBMC is easy to install on the Intel NUC via XBMCbuntu and Openelec and it makes a small, stylish, quiet solution. Connected via Gigabit Ethernet it’s able to decode 20Mbps+ of remote content. The user interface is easy to control with mouse, touch, remote or keyboard. For the lowest cost solution a fast-USB3.0-stick install of Openelec would be my recommendation and with 2GB of RAM it brings the total cost to around $160. As a hybrid Windows 8.1 / XBMC solution it should do well too and in some respects that’s a better solution for the modern media subscriber. Beware though because disk, memory and license requirements would take the price up into territory where a Windows 8 tablet could perform just as well.