MADISON, Wis. — Brace yourselves. Here comes MediaTek, Taiwan’s big success story in the smartphone chip market, armed with a new quad-core SoC with heterogeneous multi-processing capability. The company has a fresh commitment to grab a sizeable share in the global tablet market, where MediaTek has been conspicuous by its absence -- until now.
MediaTek’s new quad-core SoC, dubbed MT8135, integrates two ARM Cortex‐A15 and two ARM Cortex‐A7 processors with the latest GPU from Imagination Technologies, the PowerVR Series6. MT8135 uses ARM big.LITTLE architecture, just as Samsung does with its Exynos Octa SoC (the only other big.Little implemented in mobile processors).
But here’s one big difference.
The MT8135 comes with heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP) capability, which the Taiwanese chip giant declares a “world’s first.” The Taiwanese company, in essence, is claiming that it got there ahead of Samsung.
Heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP)
OK, but where did MediaTek get it? Why is heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP) such a big deal?
Its biggest advantage is “power efficiency,” said Mike Demler, senior analyst at the Linley Group.
He told EE Times:
The [Samsung] Octa architecture looks like one quad to the OS. Like other processors, the power manager can use DVFS to throttle the CPUs, depending on performance and power requirements. All CPUs in a quad run under the same operating conditions. When a high-performance operating point exceeds the capabilities of the quad A7s, the scheduler shuts them down and moves everything to the A15s.
With MediaTek’s HMP the OS still sees a quad, but can assign (or shift) a task to any CPU independently. The A15s can run at the same time as the A7s. Tasks can still be moved from one to the other for power-performance optimization.
In short, HMP’s flexibility to “match tasks with the right sized core” results in more efficient computation, graphical, and multimedia performance, Demler concluded.
Just to be clear, though, HMP isn’t proprietary to MediaTek.
“MediaTek’s competitors have also access to the same software and RTL that enables HMP from ARM,” according to Demler. “They may be working on similar SoCs, but the MT8135 is the first HMP chip that we know of.
“In a recent discussion, ARM confirmed that all big.LITTLE designs so far used the cluster migration technique in the Samsung Exynos Octa.”
While ARM enables HMP with its IP and software, MediaTek claims it also added things like “an advanced scheduler algorithm, combined with adaptive thermal and interactive power management” to maximize performance and energy efficiency of the ARM big.LITTLE architecture. “This technology enables application software to access all of the processors in the big.LITTLE cluster simultaneously for a true heterogeneous experience,” the Taiwanese company said.
MediaTek is sampling MT8135 to its lead customers now. Presumably those OEM are in the high-end tablet market. Finbarr Moynihan, MediaTek’s platform marketing director, told us, “I would expect our lead customers’ tablets to start volume production in late fourth quarter, early first quarter.”
How big a market share MediaTek will be able to grab in the tablet IC market, however, remains unclear.
Market research company Forward Concepts pegged MediaTek in 2012 with only one percent share of the total tablet apps processor market.
Source: Forward Concepts
Further, focusing just on the Chinese market, where the production of smartphones and tablets saw significant growth in 2012, market research firm Gartner pointed out, “In 2012, MediaTek and Qualcomm led China's smartphone processor market with market shares of 43 percent and 38 percent respectively, while Allwinner Technology had over a 53 percent share in China's tablet market.”
On one end of the global tablet market, Apple still looms large. On the other end, a growing number of tablets, branded or not, are being churned out in China. So, where will latecomer MediaTek’s sweet spot fall?