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Doubt cast on Intel's benchmark triumph over ARM

Intel's supposed benchmark victory over ARM is looking shakier with news that the AnTuTu Benchmark for Android smartphones and tablets has been revised to fix some problems that gave the Atom Z2580 an unfair advantage over competitive ARM-based chips used in Android smartphones.

The gist of the story is that quite a few people have been questioning an ABI Research study that found that Intel's most powerful "Clover Trail+" System on a Chip (SoC) for mobile devices wildly outperformed several ARM-based SoCs while using significantly less power to do so.

ABI Research didn't actually state that it used the popular AnTuTu benchmarking suite for its study, but most observers assumed that was the case. And it turns out that AnTuTu has some issues revolving around a compiler that apparently lets x86 CPU cores skip some steps in certain testing processes while making ARM chips perform them.

So AnTuTu was fixed to clean up this discrepancy, reports Jim McGregor of TIRIAS Research. The bad news for Intel is that when Clover Trail+ was put through its paces by the revised benchmarking test, "overall scores for the Atom Z2580 dropped by about 20 percent," the analyst said.

Revision 3.2.2 to the AnTuTu benchmark, released last week, punishes the Atom Z2580's RAM score even more—knocking 50 per cent off the mark reported by ABI Research in early June.

McGregor says this development makes it "clear that the ARM processors still hold a significant advantage over the Intel processors, whether you include the new AnTuTu scores or just eliminate them completely from the evaluation." The analyst also contends that Intel's upcoming, 22-nanometer "Bay Trail" Atom SoCs for mobile devices have been "prematurely proclaimed ... the victor over the next-generation ARM processors" but that this prediction now "appears to be highly questionable."

Perhaps. It certainly seems pretty clear now that the unrevised AnTuTu benchmark was making Intel's current chips look like better performers in relation to ARM's products than they actually are. But it's also hard to dismiss the fact that Intel has been making some pretty big strides with its mobile chip offerings, given where the company stood in the mobile device market a year ago — with nothing available in its product portfolio to challenge ARM in any meaningful way.

Atom may not be the ARM-buster that the ABI Research report made it out to be. But for the first time in a long time, Intel has products that can legitimately compete with ARM and that should make this space a lot more interesting in the months to come.