Qualcomm and MediaTek not interested in octo-core CPUs
by Robert Triggs on Feb 27, 2013
When asked about their development of octo-core processors at MWC both Qualcomm and MediaTek seemed to shrug off the issue, simply stating that they don’t see any real consumer demand for an eight core behemoth. Octo-core processors don’t appear on the product road maps for either company, so Samsung looks to be the only manufacturer planning to put an eight core chip on the market, at least for the foreseeable future.
But with many consumers seemingly more interested in product pricing, battery life, and less intensive CPU tasks like watching videos and browsing the web, than blitzing out 1080p games and CAD design, you can understand why the two tech companies are hesitant to expend resources on designing a balanced eight core CPU. Many of the best selling tablets are still dual core devices, and top of the line smartphones have only just leapt up to quad cores. So if you ask me Qualcomm and MediaTek are reading consumer appetites pretty spot on.
As well as just consumer demand, Qualcomm was especially concerned that simply moving to eight cores isn’t going to improve the user experience. As many applications and operating systems are coded for four cores at most, it clearly doesn’t see a situation where eight cores are going to be useful, and I for one agree.
So then isn’t Samsung wrong to branch out into eight core territory with its Exynos 5 Octa? Well not exactly, Samsung is looking at eight core chips from an energy efficiency perspective, balancing peak performance with minimal battery consumption on less intensive tasks. Check out the MWC demo if you want to see what this looks like in practice.
Bedsides, the two companies are operating on slightly different design philosophies to Samsung. Qualcomm’s Krait CPUs are already designed to be energy efficient by working asymmetrically, and MediaTek products are aimed at slightly lower spec and more energy conservative devices anyway. So neither company would benefit much by moving over to a similar architecture to big.LITTLE.
We’ll have to wait and see which design choices pay off over the next year, bring on the 2013 processor war.
NEW YORK – As the Mobile World Congress raises its curtain next week in Barcelona, practically every mobile chip company is rushing to announce new smartphone ICs with the mobile industry’s two new “must-have features”: quad-core and LTE modem.
Of course, not all quad-cores are equal. LTE modems, too, come in different flavors. Every modem chip is at a different stage in operators’ certification processes, a hurdle that every chip vendor needs to clear before claiming a design win.
Aside from Qualcomm which detailed its Snapdragon 600 and 800 and announced it during International Consumer Electronics Show, and Broadcom which discussed last week what the company claims to be smallest 4G-LTE Advanced modem chip, both Nvidia and Marvell are competing for the market’s attention this week.
Nvidia unveiled Tuesday (Feb. 19) Tegra 4i, a new member of the Tegra 4 family. It’s an application processor integrated with LTE processor on the same die.
Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, called it a “stunner,” due to a number of advanced features integrated in it. The 4i is based on four Cortex-A9 (2.3-GHz) CPUs jointly developed with ARM, featuring a fifth “battery saver” core. It also comes with 60 GPU cores and a version of the i500 LTE modem optimized for integration.
Nvidia's senior vice president, Phillip Carmack, wrote in his blog at Nvidia’s website, “Tegra 4i will bring super phone capabilities to the mainstream smartphone market, and there will be nothing on the market like it.”
Carmack probably isn’t just saying that. With Tegra 4i, Nvida is firmly setting its sights on Qualcomm. Nvidia’s spokesman claims that Tegra 4i “is significantly faster yet half the size of its nearest competitor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800.” If true, that sets a new benchmark.
Meanwhile, Marvell is rolling out Wednesday (Feb. 20) an LTE version of the company’s quad-core ARM Cortex-A7-based world-mode platform. Compared to Nvidia’s Tegra 4i (a quad-core CPU based on ARM’s most efficient core—the R4 Cortex-A9 CPU—plus a fifth battery saver core), Marvell’s apps processor appears decidedly modest. However, Marvell is emphasizing its own LTE modem, calling it “the industry’s most advanced modem solution” that features support for field-proven five-mode cellular modems, including LTE TDD and FDD, HSPA+, TD-HSPA+ and EDGE.
LTE modem differences?
Marvell, which went through an arduous certification process with its previous LTE modem chip, is now claiming that the company is winning some LTE design-wins with global OEMs, including ZTE. Weili Dai, Marvell’s co-founder, told EE Times that the company expects products based on Marvell’s single-chip LTE/apps processor platform to go on sale this year.
That said, Nvidia’s LTE modem, i500, appears definitely keeping up with its competitors’ solutions.
In his blog, Nvidia’s Carmack wrote: “The i410 is now certified for use on AT&T’s LTE multi-mode network and is a testament to the capabilities of the soft modem architecture. It’s been an ideal foundation for the i500, our second-generation LTE modem, which has more than five times the computational capacity of its predecessor.” Nvidia’s i500 has been designed for “global LTE multi-mode deployment” designed to serve high-end and mainstream devices globally, wrote Carmack.
Strauss is impressed with Nvidia’s modem chip, largely because it “took Nvidia only 20 months” after Nvidia acquired Icera to deliver this combined application processor/advance modem product. He added, “Of course, Icera had been offering modems since 2005 and had an aggressive startup culture and advanced wireless design talent. Meanwhile Nvidia had deeper pockets and an equally aggressive culture.”
Nvidia’s i500 multimode modem based on a 28nm process is paired with its own 65nm RF transceiver (multi-band FDD & TDD LTE/HSPA+/EDGE and TD-SCDMA) with RX diversity.
It’s important to note, however, that Nvidia’s i500 modem is introduced with LTE Cat 3 capability (100 Mbps DL), not Cat 4. But Nvidia claims that it is software upgradeable to LTE Cat 4 with carrier aggregation (150 Mbps DL). Strauss observed, “It is perhaps the only LTE modem capable of software upgradeability (over the air, no less); so it really is a software-defined radio.”
According to Marvell, at MWC 2013, Marvell’s LTE solution will be used in ZTE’s first dual radio dual standby LTE smartphone demonstration. Marvell’s LTE platform will support both TD-SCDMA and dual-radio dual standby LTE voice solution, in addition to a Circuit Switched Fallback (CSFB) voice solution.