Intel has twins named Merrifield and Moorestown

MWC 2014: Congratulations on the two bouncing baby 22nm Atoms for phones

Intel - logoTo go with their new XMM 7260 radio, Intel has announced two 22nm Atom SoCs, Merrifield and Moorefield. These two should prove very interesting in the phone space for performance and features.

The two new parts are officially called Z34xx for the dual-core Merrifield, and Z35xx the quad-core Moorefield. If you remember the older Moorestown/Penwell CPUs, this pair will look a lot like that, at least in the cursory detail Intel went in to with the press. If you are not familiar with those parts, read up on them because we will reference that architecture quite a bit. The short version of the story is that both of these devices are conceptually shrunken 32nm Atoms with updated everything but little new. See?

Intel MerriMoore block diagram

If you drink enough, the two look really alike

Looking over the diagram there is one real addition to the new twins, the video signal processor (VSP). As you might expect from such a beast, the VSP is there to enhance video through post-processing, something that can be done with the CPU but not always in real-time and most importantly not in the same power envelope. With support for up to 4MP (2560*1600) screens, 1080p60 video, and 13/2.1MP front/rear camera, dedicated hardware is now a must.

22nm Atoms have hardware video encode and decode blocks just like their predecessor, essentially beefed up to support the new data rates, codecs, and power management modes. This time around both support VP8 in hardware, VP9 in software, and both formats cheese Microsoft off in similar ways. Please do note that these blocks are separate from the VSP, that unit just does the old buff and polish on the outputs from it’s two partners.

The GPU in MerriMoore is updated as well to an Imagination PowerVR Series-6 (Rogue) G6400 device. Both are quad-cluster versions, 6430 in Moorefield, 6400 in Merrifield with the latter running a little faster. Intel didn’t get us clock speeds in time to put them in this article however. Either way it supports OpenCL, RenderScript, and all the other modern GPU compute functions you would expect. A big upgrade however is that Moorefield now has three display controllers, up from two in the prior generation. Merrifield still only has two but that should be enough for its intended market.

Similarly on the memory front, the operative phrase is upgrades. Both chips support 4GB of LPDDR3 at up to 533/800MHz, that would be LPDDR3-1066/1600 in Merri/Moore respectively. Flash is capped at a generous 256GB maximum but we doubt many devices will push half that. The main reason for the 4GB limit is the PoP construction means you are buying the memory pre-installed, the SoC itself should be capable of addressing much more.

Moving on to clocks, Merrifield runs at 2.13GHz for its top burst clock, Moorefield will hit 2.33GHz top burst, and vary a bit with SKUs. This means that the quad-core device will in theory pull a bit more power but that is something that you expect anyway. Packages are the standard 12*12mm and 14*14mm respectively, again nothing new or exciting there. At the moment both pair with the XMM 7160 modem but we expect to see 7260s coupled as options on the next phone refresh cycle.

According to the slides Intel sent out, picking the 22nm Atoms is a lifestyle choice that will transform you from a couch-bending geek to an active, popular, hip, coffee shop legend or something. We will skip this part to save you that chunk of sanity such claims always cost but there is one interesting technical bit buried in it. That would be the sensor hub.

Remember how Intel is talking about getting into wearable devices? You know, those things that claim to shorten the geek -> coffee shop god transition time but always end up in dusty drawer. The sensor hub is what will enable this while allowing Intel to keep to their battery life claims. No the hub does not actually contain any sensors at all, it simply aggregates their outputs to one area and controls their functions. Better yet it can decide when to wake up, shut down, and sample the sensors rather than waking up the CPU or worse yet allowing the sensors themselves to run the show.

The idea is to save power and allow all of the sensors to run full-time instead of the old way of having to manually turn them on before use or risk drained batteries. While Intel did not comment directly on how this all works, conceptually there is only one real way to do it. The hub is just a low power dedicated controller that wakes up sensors on a timer, reads the output, and buffers it for a bit.

This allows the CPUs to stay in deep sleep for much longer periods instead of being woken up every few mS to service an interrupt. Instead of processing every bit of output when they happen, with a small buffer in the hub, the CPU can wake up on a less frequent schedule and pull the needed data on its optimal schedule. Optimal can mean optimal for power use, performance, or any other mode the device is set to, in short the hub can allow the sensors to work the way they need to while not screwing up device power management schemes.

Intel has also made and SDK for the sensor hub to ease programming, a really smart move for modern hardware extensions. It should allow a programmer to use higher level constructs for common sensor types like, “When running…” instead of figuring all that out on a per-device, per-program basis. Google also has an API that does this, but like many of the other technical details, we didn’t hear back in time to write-up the differences. Basically, the software side of this hub is both extremely important and not overlooked by Intel. This means it has a good chance of being used in the real world rather than being a one-off curiosity supported only by demos.

All told the new MerriMoore twins are exactly what you would expect, evolutions of the current devices. The new 22nm Atom core is a radical departure from their 40/32nm predecessors but those cores have been out for a while in the form of Bay Trail. GPUs are upgraded, video processing is upgraded, and everything else is just a little more something. The only really new parts are the VSP and the sensor hub, both interesting but not exactly radically different. In short the two new Atoms are exactly what you would expect them to be.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate