Intel wants back in the tablet space with its new Tremont architecture

Intel is unveiling its new “Tremont” line of ultra-low-power 10nm CPUs today at the Linley microprocessor conference in Santa Clara. Intel’s presentation on the new line says that usage will “span client, IoT, and datacenter products.” It’s a little too early for a laundry list of the actual devices that will be powered by Tremont, but we do know that the new dual-screened Surface Neo is among them; its Lakefield hybrid processor uses both high-powered Ice Lake and low-powered Tremont cores.

Tremont is the successor to last year’s Goldmont Plus, and Goldmont and Silvermont before it. These are the lowest-powered (and frequently, least expensive) CPUs in Intel’s lineup, and consumers will generally be more familiar with them by names like Celeron and Pentium N. You could occasionally find Celeron or Pentium N processors in extremely low-end retail generic Windows PCs, but they were more frequently seen in specialty items like the bare Linux router build we showed off back in 2016.

Overcoming some bad history

Pentium N and Celeron were generally well received—but then there was the Atom. Intel CPUs branded with the Atom name have traditionally been on the extreme low end in both power consumption and processing performance. A few years ago, I saw that Asus made an Intel-powered Android tablet, and naively, I assumed anything x86 would blow anything ARM out of the water, so I bought one for my son. It did not meet my unwarranted expectations; and its Atom Z3745 performed in line with this comparison between it and its contemporaneous Qualcomm Snapdragon competitor.

It might seem unfair to Intel to bring up bad history from five years ago in its tablet processors, but traditionally, it’s a segment Intel has struggled to compete in. Atom CPUs tend to fall behind their ARM-based competition in power consumption and performance. Cherry Trail tablet CPUs followed my son’s ill-fated Bay Trail in 2015—and didn’t do much better in the market—but 2016’s Willow Trail was canceled entirely. 2017 and 2018’s Goldmont Plus “tock” also didn’t produce any tablet processors, so Intel’s belated return to the ultra-low-power scene with Tremont is big news.

Performance and efficiency

Tremont aims to change Intel’s history in the ultra-low-power space for the better, and it does so with a tight focus on specific design goals. In order to compete strongly with ARM products like Snapdragon in tablet, phone, IoT, and other extreme low-power target markets, Tremont ramped up its Instructions Per Clock (IPC) efficiency significantly from Goldmont Plus, improved its power management, and took aim at the highest possible single-threaded performance. It also offers new x86 instructions that weren’t available in 2016’s Goldmont Plus line.

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