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10nm Processors to Power Android and Chrome OS Devices

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10nm SoC

There are certainly a lot of pieces and parts to a mobile device but the one item which glues it all together is the processor which is commonly referred to as a “System On a Chip” (SoC). In the smart phone market, the market which is currently driving mobile computing, the list of players is relatively small. The following is not a complete tally, but in alphabetical order are names you will likely recognize.

  • Apple

  • Intel

  • MediaTek

  • Qualcomm

  • Samsung

Given the importance of the SoC, what we see on the horizon for 2017 will shape planned product releases and the buzz in this space is 10 nanometer (nm). Nanometer refers to the size of internal electrical components such as transistors and is mathematically defined as one billionth of a meter. For perspective, this compares to the size of a few dozen water molecules, or is 1,000 times smaller than a typical strand of human hair. A SoC at the 10nm size will have a significantly smaller footprint than their 2016 14nm counterparts. This means device manufacturers will have more usable space to support larger batteries, add additional computing power, or accommodate slimmer designs.

10nm Snapdragon 835

As of this writing Qualcomm and MediaTek are the only companies to announce 10nm products; the Snapdragon 835 and the Helio X30 respectively. A couple of interesting things about the Snapdragon 835 is it will be manufactured by Samsung and Microsoft has already endorsed it for its new Windows 10 on ARM.

MediaTek recently announced the 10nm Helio X30 which is a 10 core SoC consisting of two 2.8 GHz A73 cores, four 2.2 GHz A53 cores, and four 2 GHz A35 cores. The Helio X30 brings support for up to 8 GB of 1866 MHz LPDDR4x RAM, 2560×1600 displays at 60 Hz or 1920×1080 displays at 120 Hz, high quality audio, and a 2×2 802.11ac WiFi radio.

To be completely honest, size isn’t the only consideration of importance in the design of a SoC. How the pieces and parts are organized and optimized can make a big difference in performance. To illustrate this point, with the exception of Intel, the manufactures listed above license their designs from ARM Ltd. (ARM). Each start at the same base line and then tweak the design to make improvements in performance or gains in power management.

Apple without a doubt has this down to a science as their Ax processors consistently perform at the top of the class. If you run Google Octane on an iPhone 7 the score from the A10 SoC is likely to exceed 26000. Run Octane on the new Google Pixel phone and the score from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC will likely be around 9500.

Designs from ARM use one or more turbo charged cores tuned for complex tasks requiring more computing power and two or more cores tuned for thrifty power consumption. ARM refers to this design as “big.LITTLE“. The goal is to only use the turbo charged cores when needed, otherwise use the thrifty cores to extend battery life. In the case of Qualcomm and MediaTek, 10nm allows them to increase processing power by adding additional turbo charged A73 cores. Here is how ARM describes this core.

The ARM® Cortex®-A73 is the most efficient and highest performance applications processor. The Cortex-A73 delivers 30% more performance than the Cortex-A72 current devices in a mobile power envelope, delivering the best user experience.

The Cortex-A73 supports the full ARMv8-A architecture and is specifically optimized for mobile and consumer workloads. Innovation, such as virtual and augmented reality or ultra-HD content, drives the demand for extra performance into the high-end thermally constrained smartphones. The Cortex-A73 improves sustained performance and power efficiency by 30% to deliver unparalleled next-generation user experiences. Implemented at up to 2.8GHz, the Cortex-A73 increases the peak performance to power large screen mobile devices.

The Cortex-A73 is also the smallest premium ARMv8-A processor. The Cortex-A73 delivers the highest single-thread performance in the smallest area footprint. Implemented individually or combined in an ARM big.LITTLE™ configuration, the Cortex-A73 scales into mid-range smartphones and consumer devices to provide the best response time and boost the user experience.

To see the outcome of implementing 10nm, the following chart compares current offerings to the planned Snapdragon 835.

10nm SoC Comparision
Snapdragon 835

Node

  • 10nm FinFET (LPE)

CPU

  • Four 2.45GHz Kryo 280 cores
  • Four 1.9GHz Kryo 280 cores

GPU

  • Adreno 540
  • (OpenGL ES 3.2, OpenCL 2.0, Vulkan 1.0, DirectX 12)

Memory

  • Dual-channel LPDDR4X
  • 1866MHz
  • 29.8GB/s

Storage

  • eMMC 5.1
  • UFS 2.1

Camera

  • Dual ISP up to 32MP
  • 16MP dual camera

Modem

  • X16 gigabit LTE
  • Download up to 1000Mbit/sec
  • Upload up to 150Mbit/sec

Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth 5

Wi-Fi

  • 802.11ad
  • multi-gigabit Wi-Fi

Charging

  • Quick Charge 4.0
Snapdragon 821

Node

  • 14nm FinFET (LPP)

CPU

  • Two 2.35GHz Kryo cores
  • Two 1.6GHz Kryo cores

GPU

  • Adreno 530
  • (OpenGL ES 3.1, OpenCL 2.0, Vulkan 1.0, DirectX 11.2)

Memory

  • Dual-channel LPDDR4
  • 1866MHz
  • 29.8GB/s

Storage

  • eMMC 5.1
  • UFS 2.0

Camera

  • Dual ISP up to 28MP

Modem

  • X12 LTE
  • Download up to 600Mbit/sec
  • Upload up to 150Mbit/sec

Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth 4.2

Wi-Fi

  • 802.11ac gigabit Wi-Fi

Charging

  • Quick Charge 3.0
Apple A10

Node

  • 16nm FinFET (LPE)

CPU

  • Two 2.34GHz Hurricane cores
  • Two 1.9GHz Zephyr low-power cores

GPU

  • Custom PowerVR GT7600
  • (DirectX 11, OpenCL FP64)

Memory

  • Dual-channel LPDDR4
  • 1600MHz

Storage

  • PCIe SSD

Camera

  • 12MP

Modem

  • Download up to 450Mbit/sec
  • Upload up to 100Mbit/sec

Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth 4.2

Wi-Fi

  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO

Charging

  • Charging via USB

Although not announced, leaked internal Intel documents indicate a better optimized 14nm “Kaby Lake” refresh will take us through much of 2017 when the planned introduction of the 10nm “Cannon Lake” SoC is anticipated late in the 4th quarter. Intel senior fellow Mark Bohr asserts their 10nm SoC will contain a higher number of electrical components and be better optimized than those from their competitors. He is probably right as Intel SoCs usually benchmark very well. AMD is planning to skip 10nm in 2017 and has 7nm on its road map for 2018.

What about the other guys like Rockchip? No news as of this writing but you may remember Rockchip and Intel formed a strategic agreement in 2014. My impression is Intel was looking for someone/anyone to help them extend the penetration of their Atom processor. It’s a different world today as evidenced by the announcement by Intel it has licensed the ARM architecture so it can build 10nm ARM chips for fabless semiconductor companies like Rockchip and Apple.

Samsung also builds a SoC named Exynos and has traditionally used a mix of Snapdragon and Exynos products in it smartphones. It is very likely this trend will continue with the Galaxy S8. Some may remember Samsung used an Exynos SoC in an early Chromebook.

Will we see desktop PCs, Chromebooks, and tablets powered by 10nm SoCs in 2017? The answer is yes if you consider the Snapdragon 835 as a choice, probably if you consider the MediaTek X30 or Intel Cannon Lake, and maybe if you consider the Samsung Exynos 8895.

10nm Octane Score

With all things being equal, ARM Octane scores should bump up to the 13000-15000 range. With reasonably good optimization even higher. Improvements can also be expected from Intel. In any case these improvements will be more than adequate to power the next generation of smartphones, tables, and Chromebooks.

As always, I can’t wait to see what new products are introduced in the months ahead.

By | 2017-03-15T20:35:51+00:00 January 20th, 2017|Categories: Hardware|Tags: |1 Comment

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