Shades of SysMark 2001: Intel May Have a WebXPRT Problem

As reported on Bright Side of News*, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is in the process of settling a class action lawsuit that alleged it manipulated benchmark scores to give the illusion that its Pentium 4 chips were more competitive against AMD’s (NYSE: AMD) Athlon processors than they actually were.

Fast forward to today and Intel has no need to try and manipulate benchmarks in the x86 desktop space. The marketplace is a different one, and the competition between the architecture of Intel and AMD is no longer as intense given AMD lacks the resources it once had for research and development. But there is a space that Intel is competing hard in, and often finds itself losing in: mobile.  For Intel, ARM-based SoCs provide Intel with fierce competition. Intel is left to rely on expensive contra revenue to effectively buy wins.

To sell the merits of its Atom SoCs, Intel relies on benchmarks. These benchmarks that say chips such as Intel’s Z3480 will narrowly beat an Apple (NASDAQ: APPL) A7 series or a Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) Snapdragon 800 have had their development sponsored by Intel (this is not the same as SysMark-maker BAPCo which is an industry consortium).

In the fine print of the terms of use of WebXPRT 2013, the benchmarking suite used to show the Intel advantage, the following is disclosed:

Software and workloads used in performance tests may have been optimized for performance only on Intel microprocessors. Intel is a sponsor and member of the BenchmarkXPRT Development Community, and was the major developer of the XPRT family of benchmarks.

This disclosure might be enough to save Intel’s skin from a legal perspective, however it also shows that this particular benchmarking suite does not produce an entirely objective assessment of Intel’s SoCs versus the competition. In many ways there are shades of SysMark 2001 in Intel’s reliance on the XPRT family of benchmarks to show the Intel advantage. Will this end up as a class action lawsuit? Probably not, but we’ll have to wait 15 years to find out .