LAS VEGAS — There is no such thing as “game over” for the mobile apps processor battle.
Evident at the International CES this year was that the ever-increasing flood of features into mobile devices is keeping silicon designers on their toes.
The new differentiators cropping up for mobile devices are the always-on mobile SoC that can be promptly awakened by voice activation, sensor fusion, multi-channel surround-sound audio, eye-tracking, post video processing, and more. An additional wrinkle is that many mobile SoCs are also being pitched as the brain that drives an automaker's in-vehicle infotainment system.
Huawei unveiled Ascend Mate 2 4G at CES.
Such changes are prompting apps processor designers to rethink DSP, GPU, and CPU cores, giving birth to a new generation of "light" apps processors, designed as co-processors to be used in conjunction with a main apps processor. Many designers are also intent on beefing up the performance of their own apps processors, by re-crafting graphics cores (e.g., Nvidia's Tegra K1) and/or adding more processor cores (e.g., MediaTek's octa-core apps processor).
"Forbidden wife" exposed
Describing DSP, often deeply embedded in an apps processor, as a "forbidden wife," Gideon Wertheizer, CEO of Ceva, a DSP IP core supplier, said in an interview with EE Times that DSP cores are back in demand.
That trend was triggered by Qualcomm last summer, he noted, when the cellular chip giant announced the availability of its Hexagon DSP core -- used inside the Snapdragon chip -- for third-party programmers. The move caught competing apps processor companies off guard, said Wertheizer.
In the past, Qualcomm rarely highlighted its Hexagon DSP cores, despite the fact that Snapdragon uses two DSP cores for baseband processing, and another DSP core for application processing. Now that Qualcomm is courting independent programmers to write software to the latter, Qualcomm's competitors are taking a fresh interest in the forbidden wife, said Wertheizer.
Leading mobile OEMs are already making a few tweaks. Look no further than Samsung's Galaxy S4.
Next page: Fujitsu's apps "processor lite"?