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Meet Clover Trail, Intel's chip for mid-range Windows 8 tablets and hybrids

Loyd Case | Oct. 1, 2012
If you're looking for a single computing device that marries the easy-breezy touch control of a tablet with the meat-and-potatoes productivity of a laptop, look no further than Intel's new Clover Trail CPU platform. That was the lofty messaging Intel shared at a press event Thursday held in the Museum of Modern Art.

Clover Trail is also a dual-core architecture, and supports Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, so it can support four simultaneous threads. The new CPU will also include hardware video decoding, which will enable full HD video to run while consuming minimal power. As with Medfield, the SoC that Intel is using in a few smartphone designs, Clover Trail is built on Intel's older 32nm manufacturing process.

As far as new information announced at Thursday's shindig, there wasn't a lot. The event was more of a PR stunt and hardware showcase than a technical briefing. That said, we did learn that Clover Trail supports cameras up to 8 megapixels, includes hardware assisted AES encryption for improved security, and offers a burst mode for when short periods of higher performance are needed, similar to the Turbo Boost used by Intel's Core CPU line.

ASUS already has much experience with docking tablets thanks to its Android line, and now the company will attempt to repeat its tricks in the Windows 8 world with the 11.6-inch VivoTab.

At the event, we played with some of the Clover Trail-based tablets and convertible laptops. They seem much more responsive than the previous generation of Atom-based netbooks, but until we have actual products in the lab for serious testing, it's hard to say just how well they'll perform for users in the field.

The Windows 8 user interface scrolls smoothly, and even desktop applications seem snappy and responsive. The one 3D game demonstrated at the Thursday event seemed a little jerky and slow, but the fact that a 3D-accelerated desktop action game ran at all was impressive. When it comes to raw benchmarking, performance is likely to be better than first-generation netbooks, with their single-core CPUs. On the other hand, odd feature limitations still exist for the Clover Trail platform, such as lack of USB 3.0 support and maximum memory support of only 2GB.

Intel has expended considerable engineering effort on the CPU's package design so that extremely thin Clover Trail systems can be built while still maintaining adequate heat dissipation. To wit: Intel's Clover Trail reference device is a 10-inch slate that's 8.7mm thin and weighs a little more than 1.25 pounds. Intel estimates that custom designs under a pound and less than 8.5mm are possible.

In many ways, Clover Trail is an evolutionary step in the development of Intel systems-on-chips, or SOCs. The next generation of Atom, code named Bay Trail, will be built using the latest 22nm process and will finally bring quad-core CPUs to Intel's SOC line. Bay Trail will also include Intel's own integrated graphics core.


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