MediaTek chances its ARM at 8-way smartphone CPUs

Author: Peter White, CEO, Rethink Wireless

media tek logoTaiwanese firm establishes its credentials as a high end player, leapfrogging Qualcomm on octacore.

There is always a balancing act when adding more and more processing cores into a design, between the amount of processing power you unleash, and in handsets the amount of battery you may use up in doing it. In non-handset designs there was always a concern that an extra CPU gave you far less than an additional 100% of power, given that some software has to manage the sharing of work between the cpus.

When we were really young and this process was going on for the first time in large servers back circa 1985, it was a land of pioneering in multi-processor architecture – now in the smart phone, it is all about the second time around and offering more granular gobbets of power. There is now established theory in how much overhead additional CPUs take up, and so most companies should reach the same conclusion about just how many CPUs are right to include in a handset design. But breaking away from the great many players offering Quad cores this week is MediaTek, offering an 8 CPU ARM Cortex A7 core design for the first time.

ARM’s great contribution has been to mix and match cores in a single design to support its big.LITTLE concept and last month MediaTek became the first company to license and use this, coming out with a combination of A50 cores and the ARM Mali GPUs. This is all about combining the A57 and A53 ARM designs alongside one another, so that you can either put one small processor on a job or one large one or more than one, so give a granular approach to both power consumption and processing power.

It has followed this up with a GPU architecture that harnesses up to 16 Mali GPU cores at once. But these multi-processor architectures are not limited to handsets or devices which are powered with a battery. Instead this is ARM opening up to set tops and servers, and making sure its architecture scales.

But MediaTek with its new MT6592, is launching an octa-core mobile platform, offering an SoC for top end gaming performance, advanced multi-tasking and enhanced (HTML 5) web browsing aimed at high-end smartphones and tablets

Each of these 8 cores can operate up to 2 GHz clock speed. It is expected to be available in devices running Android Jelly Bean by the end of 2013 and the following generation Android Kit-Kat in early 2014. The chip is cut in 28nm and MediaTek claims it will eat no more power than existing SoCs, because it elects to use an optimal amount of CPU power for any given job. It also comes with 4 GPU cores and an advanced video playback system supporting Ultra-HD 4Kx2K currently using the H.264 codec, with support coming for H.265 and VP9. IT has a 16-megapixel camera built in.

The SoC also features MediaTek ClearMotion technology for automatic frame-rate conversion of standard 24/30fps video to higher quality 60fps video to make videos smoother on devices built with this chip and it has dual-band 801.11n WiFi, and Miracast screen-sharing as well as Bluetooth, GPS and an FM tuner.
This is a serious statement by the Taiwanese firm that has been struggling to mimic the chip designs of the Qualcomm Snapdragon range at the top end, and clearly feels it has made inroads with this part.

MediaTek is claiming it has its own heterogeneous computing engine and that’s why it feels it can build this octo-core platform ahead of others, such as Qualcomm and Nvidia, adding CPU, GPU, DSP, connectivity and multimedia engines as well as camera drivers, at will. We can expect a similar architectural approach up and down the ARM Cortex range, which include processors more than twice as fast as the A7.

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