Powering the Chuwi LapBook 14.1: Intel Apollo Lake

Intel’s Atom processor is their low-cost offering, with a smaller die size than Intel’s Core series, allowing them to sell them for less money, but keep their margins up. Atom has had a bit of a roller coaster of a ride over the last several years. When it launched in 2008, it was an in-order design, offering low power, but also low performance. It was originally on the 5-year cadence that Intel was still doing with their main CPUs as well, which really made the original Atom long in the tooth, despite several process changes along the way.

Eventually Intel saw the threat of ARM processors, and tried to speed up the cadence of Atom so that it could be used in thin and light tablets, as well as smartphones. We saw some brief success with Atom, partially due to a strategy of contra-revenue, and partially because Windows RT was a failure, but with Intel never gaining a foothold in smartphones and basically only available in Windows tablets, Intel made the decision to cancel the Broxton tablet platform completely. This was a bit of a shock, and I’m sure it caught a lot of their partners a bit flat footed, since they had devices being sold with Cherry Trail that would never get an update.

But this didn’t impact the low-end PC market, because Intel was moving forward with their PC platform, which they dubbed Apollo Lake. The new 14 nm successor to Airmont, named Goldmont, was going to live on, albeit in less devices. Much of the confusion about the death of Atom has to do with just how many products it was in.

Comparison of Intel's Atom SoC Platforms
  Node Release Year Smartphone Tablet Netbook
Saltwell 32 nm 2011 Medfield
Clover Trail+
Clover Trail Cedar Trail
Silvermont 22 nm 2013 Merrifield
Bay Trail-T Bay Trail-M/D
Airmont 14 nm 2015 'Riverton' Cherry Trail-T Braswell
Goldmont 14 nm 2016 Broxton
Willow Trail
Apollo Lake

So, the low-end PC market was still going to go ahead, with Intel focusing on its strengths, despite the decrease in the PC market, rather than push a new Atom against the latest ARM products in tablets and phones. While this retrenching by Intel likely seemed like a good idea for them at the time, Microsoft’s announcement that Windows 10 will support ARM processors with x86 support, surely did not make them happy. Intel is likely to get the ARM competition against Atom they never wanted, but we’ll have to wait and see how the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 compares later this year.

That brings up back to the present, which is the Chuwi Lapbook 14.1, which run on the Intel Celeron N3450, and despite the name Celeron, this is most certainly an Apollo Lake platform featuring the Intel Atom Goldmont core. Apollo Lake was first publicly announced at IDF in 2016, and it offers some nice advancements over the Braswell PC platform it replaces. The main change should help performance, with Goldmont cores replacing Airmont cores, but also with Gen 9 graphics replacing Gen 8 in Braswell.

Apollo Lake Mobile Lineup
  Pentium N4200 Celeron N3450 Celeron N3350 Pentium N3700 (Braswell)
Cores 4 4 2 4
Threads 4 4 2 4
Base CPU Freq. 1.1 GHz 1.1 GHz 1.1 GHz 1.6 GHz
Turbo CPU Freq. 2.5 GHz 2.2 GHz 2.4 GHz 2.4 GHz
CPU Architecture Goldmont Goldmont Goldmont Airmont
iGPU HD 505 (Gen 9) HD 500 (Gen 9) HD 500 (Gen 9) HD 405 (Gen 8)
EUs 18 12 12 16
Turbo iGPU Freq. 750 MHz 700 MHz 650 MHz 700 MHz
TDP 6W 6W 6W 6W
Max Memory 8GB 8GB 8GB 8GB
PCIe 2.0 Lanes 6 6 6 4
Modern Standby (S0ix) Yes Yes Yes No
Price $161 $107 $107 $161

Much of the changes with Goldmont were about improving the out-of-order execution compared to Silvermont, with a wider decoder, better branch prediction, and a larger out-of-order execution window. Goldmont can perform one load and one store per cycle, and it can execute up to three simple integer ALU operations per cycle. There’s new instruction support for hashing with SHA1 and SHA256, and there’s new support for the RDSEED instruction. The graphics are also improved, with Gen 9 offering better performance than Gen 8, as well as features like Quick Sync for H.265, and low-power H.264 encode.

Overall, Intel’s previous marketing materials have outlined what kind of performance gains to expect:

Apollo Lake Mobile Performance: Pentium N4200 vs. Pentium N3710
CPU Performance +30%
GPU Performance +45%

With a lower bill of materials, higher performance, and lower power consumption, Apollo Lake is certainly a nice step forward. It remains to be seen just how competitive it will be, and Atom is still a significant step down in performance from Core, even at similar TDP numbers. It remains to be seen if Apollo Lake will be competitive with ARM offerings, and we should have a nice ability to test that later this year.

Design System Performance
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  • comomolo - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    I only wish they provided ANSI keyboard layouts (I need es-es). Using stickers is less than ideal. The price is not so slow as to justify this.
  • comomolo - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

  • Andrew Vanelli - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    Come on, man, lazer printing costs 10 bucks
  • Yaldabaoth - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    Is anyone else thinking of this as a potential Chromebook replacement? I love my Toshiba Chromebook 2 (and am using it to type this up!), but there are always those one or two applications that are Windows-only.
  • DanNeely - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    This tier of Windows laptops and Chromebooks have always been in competition. If you absolutely only need a browser, are happy with Chrome, and don't care that it's Not Windows(tm); a Chromebook is a great choice because of the simplicity and lower attack surface. If any of the prior don't apply get the Windows model instead.
  • Diji1 - Saturday, March 11, 2017 - link

    Not too mention the OS is made by the worlds largest internet advertising business specifically to spy on you in order to serve unwanted advertising. How much better than Windows is that!
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, March 13, 2017 - link

    A lot better, considering I trust MS far less then google, and chromeOS doesnt break itself nearly as often as windows does.
  • mitcoes - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    You can use wine now in crossover apk or via crouton
  • tipoo - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    Absolutely. Been looking at cheaper Chromebooks for travel, but looking down the specs list for this I'm starting to find little reason to anymore. Beats the pants out of previous efforts like the HP Streams.
  • bill.rookard - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    I'd like to see them offer a single M.2 slot in there somewhere - that way we could get a super cheap beater laptop and outfit it with a decent M.2 SSD storage device. Plus that would really leave any storage bottlenecks far... far... behind.

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