Late last month, Intel dropped by my office with a power engineer for a rare demonstration of its competitive position versus NVIDIA's Tegra 3 when it came to power consumption. Like most companies in the mobile space, Intel doesn't just rely on device level power testing to determine battery life. In order to ensure that its CPU, GPU, memory controller and even NAND are all as power efficient as possible, most companies will measure power consumption directly on a tablet or smartphone motherboard.

The process would be a piece of cake if you had measurement points already prepared on the board, but in most cases Intel (and its competitors) are taking apart a retail device and hunting for a way to measure CPU or GPU power. I described how it's done in the original article:

Measuring power at the battery gives you an idea of total platform power consumption including display, SoC, memory, network stack and everything else on the motherboard. This approach is useful for understanding how long a device will last on a single charge, but if you're a component vendor you typically care a little more about the specific power consumption of your competitors' components.

What follows is a good mixture of art and science. Intel's power engineers will take apart a competing device and probe whatever looks to be a power delivery or filtering circuit while running various workloads on the device itself. By correlating the type of workload to spikes in voltage in these circuits, you can figure out what components on a smartphone or tablet motherboard are likely responsible for delivering power to individual blocks of an SoC. Despite the high level of integration in modern mobile SoCs, the major players on the chip (e.g. CPU and GPU) tend to operate on their own independent voltage planes.

A basic LC filter

What usually happens is you'll find a standard LC filter (inductor + capacitor) supplying power to a block on the SoC. Once the right LC filter has been identified, all you need to do is lift the inductor, insert a very small resistor (2 - 20 mΩ) and measure the voltage drop across the resistor. With voltage and resistance values known, you can determine current and power. Using good external instruments (NI USB-6289) you can plot power over time and now get a good idea of the power consumption of individual IP blocks within an SoC.

Basic LC filter modified with an inline resistor

The previous article focused on an admittedly not too interesting comparison: Intel's Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) versus NVIDIA's Tegra 3. After much pleading, Intel returned with two more tablets: a Dell XPS 10 using Qualcomm's APQ8060A SoC (dual-core 28nm Krait) and a Nexus 10 using Samsung's Exynos 5 Dual (dual-core 32nm Cortex A15). What was a walk in the park for Atom all of the sudden became much more challenging. Both of these SoCs are built on very modern, low power manufacturing processes and Intel no longer has a performance advantage compared to Exynos 5.

Just like last time, I ensured all displays were calibrated to our usual 200 nits setting and ensured the software and configurations were as close to equal as possible. Both tablets were purchased at retail by Intel, but I verified their performance against our own samples/data and noticed no meaningful deviation. Since I don't have a Dell XPS 10 of my own, I compared performance to the Samsung ATIV Tab and confirmed that things were at least performing as they should.

We'll start with the Qualcomm based Dell XPS 10...

Modifying a Krait Platform: More Complicated
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  • metafor - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    It matters to a degree. Look at the CPU power chart, the CPU is constantly being ramped from low to high frequencies and back.

    Tegra automatically switches the CPU to a low-leakage core at some frequency threshold. This helps in almost all situations except for workloads that constantly keep the CPU at above that threshold, which, if you look at the graph, isn't the case.

    That being said, that doesn't mean it'll be anywhere near enough to catch up to its Atom and Krait competitors.
  • jeffkro - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    The tegra 3 is also not the post powerful arm processor, intel obviously chose it to make atom look better.
  • npoe1 - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - link

    From one of Ananad's articles: "NVIDIA recently revealed it was doing something similar to this with its upcoming Tegra 3 (Kal-El) SoC. NVIDIA outfitted its next-generation SoC with five CPU cores, although only a maximum of four are visible to the OS. If you’re running light tasks (background checking for email, SMS/MMS, twitter updates while your phone is locked) then a single low power Cortex A9 core services those needs while the higher performance A9s remain power gated. Request more of the OS (e.g. unlock your phone and load a webpage) and the low power A9 goes to sleep and the 4 high performance cores wake up."
  • jeffkro - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    A15 currently pulls to much power for smartphone but it makes for a great tablet chip as well as providing enough horse power to power basic laptops.
  • djgandy - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    The most obvious thing here is that PowerVR graphics are far superior to Nvidia graphics.
  • Wolfpup - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Actually no, that isn't obvious at all. Tegra 3 is a two year old design, on a 2 generations old process. The fact that it's still competitive today is just because it was so good to begin with. It'll be nessisary to look at the performance and power usage of upcoming Nvidia chips on the same process to actually say anything "obvious" about them.
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    According to Wikipedia, the 545 is from January '10, so it's got its a 3 year old now. The only current gen thing here is the Mali. The 225 is just a 220 with a higher clock, so it's about 1.5 to 2 years old.
  • djgandy - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    And a 4/5 year old atom and the 2/3 year+ old SGX545 aren't old designs?

    Look at the power usage of Nvidia. It's way beyond what is acceptable for any SOC design. Phones from 2 years ago used far less power on older processes than the 40nm T3! Just look at GLbenchmark battery life tests for the HTC One X and you'll see how poor the T3 GPU is. In fact just take your Nvidia goggles off and re-read this whole article.
  • Wolfpup - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Atom's basic design is old, the manufacturing process is newer. Tegra 3 is by default at the biggest disadvantage here. You accuse me of bias when it appears you're actually biased.
  • Chloiber - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - link

    First of all it's still 40nm.

    Second of all: you mentioned the battery benchmarks yourself. Go look at the Nexus 4 review and look how the international version of the One X fares. Battery life on the T3 One X is very good, if you take into account that it's based on 40nm compared to 28nm of the One XL and uses 4 cores.

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