Laptop Silicon in the Handheld Space

Updated on 19 November 2012 by

The more I test Intel Sandy-Bridge based systems the more I am becoming convinced that laptop silicon will eventually extend as a high-dynamic-range platform into to ultra-mobile PCs and tablets. The reason is that the new laptop platforms are using advanced processes and techniques and are extremely efficient at getting things done. ‘Hurry Up Get Idle’ is a simple concept that means if you can get the same job done quickly, you can turn off or idle a pc and thus reduce the power used. The area under the power curve is smaller.

In practice, its difficult to make HUGI work because a lot of the tasks we do are either very short, can only work as fast as a human can input or rely on data coming from other sources. PC’s aren’t very good at idling either but from my recent video editing tests, I can see that there’s at least one scenario where it works very well.

The problem with getting laptop silicon into a handheld product is the thermals. Intel leads the way in this market and their products provide plenty of thermal monitoring and control but it will take a little bit more than what is currently on offer to be able to easily design and produce a 7″, tablet running a laptop-style processor. It’s been done before though. Samsung, experts in electrical engineering, produced a 7″ Tablet running a 1.3Ghz Core Solo but that was at a time when there was no competition from ARM-based devices, $1200 tablets were common and there wasn’t an Atom processor around. The latest tablet example would be the Eee Slate EP121 and for a 1.06KG laptop, the Samsung 900X1A gets close but that’s a little larger and heavier than a handheld device should be.

As silicon processes get better though and thermal control, dedicated silicon and single-chip solutions become more common, you can expect both Intel and AMD to try to offer the ultimate processing power in the handheld space. You can expect these products to have premium prices and to be targeted at niche markets but with Windows 8 as a catalyst and competition increasing from the latest ARM designs, offering these niche product is one way that the X86 chip makers can retain an advantage and one way manufacturers can differentiate their products.

22 Comments For This Post

  1. comscier says:

    Acer has a AMD APU C-50 tablet, but its a 10′ inch…
    I think the problem is that newer processors make uses of newer RAM. 1333-1600
    and they can get very hot, eventually damaging the battery underneath/beside it.
    handheld pc usually soldered onto the board, and very small and slow.

    I have 3 laptops, intel i3(integrated graphics , AMD C-50[APU] and AMD E-350[APU]
    the Intel cpu gets hotter than AMD under intensive use. (eg: gaming)
    *the intel one can get warm even from just playing back HD videos.
    But the AMD ones, gets warm, hardly noticeable.

  2. DavidC1 says:

    C-50 runs cooler because the performance sucks. Putting a Sandy Bridge chip is in a whole different league. We’ll see the Atoms and E-350s to reach higher performance in the future, but I doubt we’ll see full laptop processor performance reach the UMPC space.

  3. zeo says:

    The AMD C-50 for tablets was renamed the Z Series Z-01, and differs from the Ontario C-Series C-50 in that it has slightly lower GPU clock speed (276Mhz for the Z-01 vs 280MHz for the C-50), Bobcat cores can idle at much lower clock speed than the normal C-50, and they stripped unneeded features like support for more than one of each connector type.

    For tablets, you don’t need more than one USB port for example. So these cuts are pretty reasonable and allow the Z-01 to give equivalent performance as the normal C-50.

    Despite all that though they failed to reach the original promised 5W TDP and instead achieved a 5.9W TDP, which you’ll have to compare to the 3W TDP that the Intel Oak Trail offers for the same product category when considering power usage and thermals against features and performance. Lowering AMD’s otherwise significant advantage.

    This becomes more of a issue once AMD starts introducing more of their newer technology like their Turbo Core for over clocking on demand, but similar to the Intel Turbo Boost system it depends on how cool the system can stay as otherwise the Turbo feature gets disabled if the system gets too warm.

    While on more extreme cases the system may have to be set to under clock if it consistently over heats and that’ll mean performance will be irregular at best.

    Though AMD may fix this with the upcoming 28nm update, but both Intel and AMD still have a way to go before they can easily produce these small portable systems with higher end offerings.

  4. comscier says:

    The APU graphics capabilities beat Intel for sure.
    (Thats their selling point in the first place)
    The APU/CPU can runs as a GPU.

    I am waiting for AMD A-8 Series CPU…
    from information gather from the internet, its a very capable APU.
    Don’t know when are they going to appear in stores here in Toronto though.

    Don’t know, aiming at speed, thats intel for sure.
    but low-end(cost effective) capable machines, thats AMD

  5. locus says:

    With battery and thermal dissipation design having been pretty stagnant for a while it’ll be years, if at all, till we see full notebook chips in UMPCs. Even the Atom based UMPCs get too hot and have low battery life. I got the Vaio P and that got thermally throttled to the lowest frequency all the time. My current Viliv N5 gets throttled down every now and then.

    Having more efficent CPUs is only part of the UMPC design challenge. In addition to battery and fanless heat dissipation technology, there are power consumption of the screen and other chips, physical footprint for chips and traces on the small PCB and most probably lots of other things.

    The only thing we could hope for in terms of CPUs is that slow Atom class CPUs get faster with little change in power consumption which could be as fast as significantly older notebook CPUs. I doubt current notebook class processors wil ever make it into a UMPC that also has good battery life and doesn’t get thermally throttled often.

  6. teh says:

    Ya, there’s a reason why most notebooks with 11-13 inch screens have ULV chips and then Atom and the like for for less than 11 inch screened devices. There’s no way a UMPC is going to be released with a current generation notebook CPU unless people don’t mind lots of heat, CPU throttling and low battery life. That’s even when you’re willing to spend the money on such a thing.

  7. dugger says:

    I agree. It’s a nice dream to only use screen size and portability when deciding to take my notebook or UMPC with me since both will have a quad core i7 CPU. Too bad that’ll never happen.

    Maybe we’ll see the slowest CULV (not really notebook class to me) in a 7-10 inch device. Too bad it’ll still suffer from bad battery life and heat dissipation. Of course, I’m only in the 5 inch screen device market and that’s even less likely to have a non-CULV CPU. So for now, I’ll settle with Atom based 5 inch UMPCs and non-CULV CPU based 14 inch notebooks. The in between sizes are no buys for me.

  8. hunts says:

    A quad core i7 would be awesome in an OQO! Plus all day battery life with constant 4G usage with no thermal CPU throttling.

    Anyway, anyone know if the OQO clone got their legal issues sorted out with OQO? That seemed like the best replacement for my 3G N5. While my N5 is nice, a sliding thumb keyboard would be great. It would make the device less long too.

  9. stelv81 says:

    It would be great if any company (I don’t really care which) can come out with a slider like the OQO with updated specs and have great build quality, I’m buying it.

    My N5’s keyboard just isn’t very thumb friendly. I have to contort or move my grip too much to reach all the keys. It might as well not have a touchscreen either (might make it cheaper too) since you have press way too hard. There aren’t any other easily purchasable alternatives in the US so I got the N5 anyway. If a slider alternative comes out, it’ll be replacing my N5 assuming the battery life isn’t dismal like the other sliders I’ve read about.

  10. travis says:

    Ya, it’d be great if a company can pull off designing a 5 inch slider UMPC. Many of the sliders I’ve seen so far suffered from overheating and low battery life.

  11. pike says:

    I have an N5 with 3G. It gets super hot just having 3G connected but sitting idle. There are other components other than the CPU that generates heat. It seems like the 3G module on my N5 gets hotter than the CPU.

  12. Chippy says:

    3g modules can take huge amounts of power. Especially old ones when used in fringe area or when moving.

  13. lou says:

    The N5 uses an old 3G module? I guess that’s why it gets so hot and my battery drains so fast while on 3G? I thought I would be getting premium components with the price I paid. Too bad there weren’t really any alternatives to the N5 or least ones I could easily buy from sellers with a known reputation.

  14. lou says:

    I thought it was just me. I have the 64 GB model and it gets pretty hot when on 3G (3-4 bars of HSPA according to Mobile Partner) while not so much on WiFi. I guess my N5 isn’t defective after all.

  15. Clio says:

    No need to have Laptop CPU in handheld device. Stick with Atoms/ARM CPUs (and 2/3 cell batteries) in the handheld device, but add in WiDi (or other wireless display protocol) receiver.

    Then have a sub-notebook, with good battery/thermal/performance balance CPU, sitting inside bag, screen switched off, beaming display to the handheld via WiDi and receiving input routed from handheld.

    I think such setup is near-achievable now.

  16. Nuromi says:

    1/2 a decade later & it’s still the same old story, the comments in this thread reflect that, Atom is too slow & ULV is too power hungry/hot

    the only hope for a thin/light/fanless/fast mobile future will not come from Intel/AMD, instead it will be powered by an upcoming avalanche of ultra high performing ARM based SoC’s from highly competitive manufactures.

    I only hope that Windows 8-ARM becomes a consumer hit & that W8-x86 becomes a legacy platform meant for operating backbone infrastructure.

  17. zeo says:

    ARM will definitely play a bigger role but they’re in the same boat as Intel/AMD, just coming at it from the opposite direction.

    ARM is still 32 bit, they only started implementing 64bit memory management in some of their latest offerings. Most still don’t support all the features expected from laptop/desktop systems and performance is only now getting to the point that it will start rivaling even ATOM CPU’s and mainly just have an edge graphically.

    The next gen quad cores will be going 28nm for ARM but Intel is already on its way to 22nm and AMD will also be going 28nm next year as well. So it’s still a race.

    Intel/AMD on one side trying to make more energy efficient and lower end solutions. While ARM is working from the other angle and coming from energy efficient low end solutions and trying to get into the higher end market.

    Though we may not know how the market may evolve till 2014, when they pretty much all plan on going 14nm and should have most if not all of their new tech out in actual products by then for proper comparison.

  18. Eucleara says:

    doesn’t matter how far down Intel can get Atoms power efficiency, it will never be able to run a x86 OS properly. they are trying to ram 2 pieces together that just don’t fit & is a huge waste of time/resources.

    the *only* hope for a robust mobile future is Android & W8-ARM.

  19. DavidC1 says:

    What makes you think a slow ARM CPU based setup will be better if a faster Atom CPU can’t do it? Windows is just too demanding, but as processors advance, it’ll be a decent match for it. Android runs fast on ARM CPUs because its much lighter than Windows.

    Processing power doesn’t always equal responsiveness.

  20. animatio says:

    slimming down windows sometimes works wonders …. but you will have to deal with the system, out of the box it’s a heavy lump.

  21. Travis says:

    Great subject,
    was discussing this only recently, nicely put together.

  22. tsog says:

    The technology to make netbook-sized laptops but with regular voltage CPUs is there, but sadly the cost is very high.

    If I have $2000 to burn, I’d buy a panasonic J10. 10″, i5, ssd, all day battery life AND ~1kg.

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