Monday, February 24, 2014

Qualcom, MediaTek Processor Chip Race

Apple 64 bit CPU used in its cell phones (see September 2013 iPhone 5s $199 Manufacturing Cost (BOM)) led Qualcomm to advance to 4 and 8 core Snapdragon processor with 64 bit support (see below).

Similarly, MediaTek, a chipset manufacturer based out of Taiwan, has been making some huge moves lately. Just over two months ago, it came out with the "world's first true octa-core" processor, which consisted of eight Cortex-A7 cores capable of operating simultaneously. Now that ARM has announced Cortex-A17 technology, (see second article below).

More about MediaTek see July 2013 Smartphone: MediaTek Overtaking Qulacomm

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Qualcomm’s 4- and 8-core Snapdragon 610 and 615 trade CPU power for 64-bit

Cortex A53 won't stand up to Krait, but Qualcomm adds a capable GPU to the mix.

The Snapdragon 610 will be equipped with four ARM Cortex A53 CPU cores running at an unspecified clock speed, rather than one of Qualcomm's custom ARM architectures. Snapdragon 615 takes a classic more-is-better approach, adding four more Cortex A53 CPU cores to the 610 for a total of eight. (Update:According to AnandTech, each group of four cores in the Snapdragon 615 will be optimized for a different performance level. One group will offer faster performance and one will offer lower power consumption, but both groups can theoretically be active at the same time.) For reference, the original Snapdragon 600 included four 32-bit Krait 300 CPU cores running at 1.7 or 1.9GHz, depending on the specific model.Qualcomm's first 64-bit chip wasn't a record-breaking high-end Snapdragon, but rather the modest, mid-range Snapdragon 410. Today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company announced its next two 64-bit mobile SoCs, the Snapdragon 610 and 615. Rather than introducing 64-bit at the top of its product lineup and letting it trickle down, Qualcomm seems to be taking the opposite approach.
The list of CPU architectures that ARM offers is getting difficult to keep track of, but here's what you need to know: Cortex A53 is a replacement of sorts for the Cortex A7. It's the first of two CPU designs from ARM that supports the new, more efficient ARMv8 instruction set and, by extension, the traditional benefits of a 64-bit architecture (not all ARMv8 chips are 64-bit, but everything we've seen so far has been). Cortex A7 and A53 are both small cores designed for low power rather than high performance, which means that Snapdragon 610 and 615 may actually be slower than last year's Snapdragon 600 for many tasks. For software that can use all of the CPU cores at once, it's possible that the eight-core 615 will be able to gain an edge, but the CPUs will likely be more remarkable for their ARMv8 support than their raw performance.
Luckily for Qualcomm, the chips' custom GPUs and LTE modems will be more compelling for partners and consumers (and will differentiate the 610 and 615 from theSnapdragon 410, which also uses four Cortex A53 CPU cores). The Adreno 405 GPU is a relative of the Adreno 420 in the upcoming Snapdragon 805, and while it will probably be a little slower, it still supports OpenGL ES 3.0 (also included in Adreno 300 GPUs), DirectX 11.2 (good for Windows phones), H.265 video decoding, and displays up to 2560×1600 in resolution.
On the wireless side, the 610 and 615 support LTE speeds of up to 150Mbps and are compatible with Qualcomm's "RF360 Front End Solution," which allows phone manufacturers to support multiple worldwide LTE bands with a single phone rather than having to customize multiple configurations for different markets. Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi are also included.
Qualcomm says that the 410, 610, and 615 will all be supported by the same software and will be pin-compatible, meaning that any phone designed for one of these three chips can be upgraded or downgraded at will. This should be handy for OEMs looking to spruce up an older handset, or phone-makers who want to experiment a bit to find the best balance between performance, power consumption, and cost.
Both the Snapdragon 610 and 615 are scheduled to begin sampling in the third quarter of 2014 and will appear in shipping phones and tablets in the fourth quarter; the Snapdragon 410 and 805 are scheduled to be released in a similar timeframe. Those of you waiting for a true high-end 64-bit part from Qualcomm will have to keep waiting. The new-ish Snapdragon 801 and the Snapdragon 805 will be the company's flagship SoCs through the end of 2014, but by the end of the year we'd expect to hear something about some kind of 64-bit Snapdragon 810-series part based on either the high-performance Cortex A57 architecture or a new version of Qualcomm's custom Krait architecture.

MediaTek, a chipset manufacturer based out of Taiwan, has been making some huge moves lately. Just over two months ago, it came out with the "world's first true octa-core" processor, which consisted of eight Cortex-A7 cores capable of operating simultaneously. Now that ARM has announced Cortex-A17 technology, however, MediaTek is ready to start sampling a new octa-core chip that consists of four 2.2-2.5GHz A17 cores and four 1.7GHz A7s, and comes with a Rogue PowerVR Series6 GPU to take care of any graphical needs you might have.
As an aside, the A17 cores come with a 60 percent improvement in performance over the current-gen A9s, and are primarily designed to make midrange smartphones and tablets even faster. That said, MediaTek tells us that its new chips, known as the MT6595, are actually meant to be featured in premium devices and will square off directly against Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 and 805. And it's certainly got a few noteworthy features: first, the chip will use ARM's big.LITTLE architecture and Heterogeneous Multi-Processing, which means you can use all eight cores for the most intense tasks, or you can use just one or two at a time for incredibly basic activities. The company claims that this chip will be faster and more power efficient than the octa-core Exynos options, which feature four A15 cores and four A7s at lower frequencies.
Additionally, the MT6595 claims to be the first octa-core LTE system-on-chip with an H.265 Ultra HD Codec built-in to the platform, which offers 4K2K video recording and playback capabilities. In much the same way that most manufacturers don't enable all of a chip's features, however, it'll be up to each individual company to add it in. The chips will begin sampling to phone makers and carriers in the first half of this year, and it's expected to arrive in products during the second half. And while it should find its way into smartphones and tablets around the world, MediaTek wants the MT6595 to enjoy a huge presence in the US.

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