Mobile Chip Makers Tip Their Hands at MWC – PC Magazine
You may have a good idea about the smartphone you’d like to buy in the next month or two, but it’s never too early to think about the devices you’ll be eyeing closer to the end of 2014 and beyond.
At Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona, chip makers like Qualcomm, Intel, MediaTek, Nvidia, and Broadcom gave us a good look at the mobile platforms they’ll be pushing throughout the year and well into 2015. You may not be able to buy handsets, tablets, wearables, and accessories based on these chipsets just yet, but it’s always worth looking ahead to the future.
So let’s break down some of the biggest semiconductor announcements and demos the PCMag mobile team witnessed at MWC. We’ve also got some additional input from industry watcher Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, who’s also been on the ground at MWC this past week.
It’s a 64-Bit World
Apple broke the seal on ARM’s first 64-bit instruction set for mobile processors last September, when it plunked its new dual-core, ARMv8 A-based A7 application processor into the iPhone 5s. In 2014, all of the major mobile chip makers are jumping on the 64-bit train.
At MWC, MediaTek showcased a new quad-core, 64-bit processor called the MT6732, a lower-cost alternative to the MT6595 octa-core, 64-bit chip the Taiwan-based company has made its premier smartphone product. The MT6732 and MT6595 feature ARM Cortex-A53-based application processors in System-on-a-Chip (SoC) packages for sub-$200 smartphones that also incorporate an ARM Mali-T760 GPU, a multi-mode 4G LTE modem, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
“With the MT6732, MediaTek has essentially taken what ARM IP has to offer in CPUs and GPUs and productized it,” Moorhead said. “MediaTek doesn’t add nearly as much IP to their platforms as Qualcomm, Intel, or Nvidia, but the company is the low-cost provider. This is why the MT6732 won’t move above the midrange, but the midrange is where a lot of volume exists in China.”
Marvell and Qualcomm are a couple more notable chip vendors that are bringing out 64-bit, ARM-based processors for mobile devices this year. Marvell’s new Armada Mobile PXA 1928 platform, aimed squarely at the Asian market, sports an ARM Cortex-A53 application processor to go along with a 5-mode LTE modem.
Qualcomm, meanwhile, may also be going after the mid-market in Asia with new 64-bit Snapdragon 600 platforms showcased at MWC, according to Moorhead. While Qualcomm dominates the upper reaches of the Android handset market with its Snapdragon 800 products and leading-edge LTE solutions, the upcoming quad-core Snapdragon 610 and octa-core 615 chipsets are aimed lower down on the chain.
“The most compelling new product Qualcomm announced was the Snapdragon 615. It is specifically designed to take on MediaTek in China, who seem fixated on eight cores and 64-bit,” Moorhead said. “I expect the 615 will be a good performer, given Qualcomm has the resources to differentiate it. Unlike a big.LITTLE implementation, the 615 has two ‘bunches’ of full-size quad A53s.”
Here Come the PC Players
Unlike much of its competition in the mobile space, Intel is no newbie when it comes to 64-bit computing and throwing oodles of central processing cores at computational problems. But the x86 giant has had trouble inserting its CISC-based processors into a mobile device market dominated by chips based on licensed, RISC-based chip designs from ARM.
Intel has next-generation Atom SoCs code named Merrifield due out in devices in the second quarter. At MWC, the chip giant demoed some reference smartphone designs based on Merrifield and another new Atom product line called Moorefield that’s arriving later in the year. PCMag Lead Mobile Analyst Sascha Segan got his hands on those reference devices in Barcelona (slideshow below) and liked what he saw, though still had doubts about Intel’s ability to compete with ARM in mobile.
“Intel has built something lovely in its Merrifield and Moorefield reference phones … these little phones are sleek and slim, with tapered edges and what appears to be a glass-covered back,” Segan said. “They aren’t dumb black slabs like so many of the standard phones you see on the market: they have a slightly edgy, angular personality.
“The phones weren’t all that functional, alas. I tried to play a racing game; it quit. They didn’t have any Internet access,” he continued. “But I summoned up CPU-Z on the quad-core Mooresfield phone and saw it racing along, with each core remaining docile at 332 Mhz and then jumping up as far as 2300 Mhz when needed.”
Segan’s take, that Intel remains “deeply challenged in phones,” was shared by Moorhead, though the analyst also noted that the chip giant has surfaced with an absolutely legitimate LTE solution, the XMM 7260, a lot faster than a lot of folks thought possible. Intel will be packaging the XMM 7260 with its Atom SoCs but also selling it as a standalone front-end solution that could be paired with ARM-based application processors.
“Intel surprised many by shipping a fully comprehensive CAT-6 LTE modem solution across 30 bands with the XMM 7260. It doesn’t appear that Intel’s Merrifield application processor got a lot of traction, but Moorefied and Cherry Trail are right around the corner,” Moorhead said.
Could Intel finally break into mobile in a big way with a modem rather than a central processor? It’s not the route to success one would predicted a year ago, but it’s now looking like Intel’s 2010 acquisition of Infineon was a pretty smart move.