Fujitsu's apps "processor lite"?
A version of the Galaxy S4, primarily in the US market, uses in its system both Qualcomm's Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor and an extra image processor by Fujitsu. In contrast, the Korean market version of Galaxy S4 employs Samsung Exynos octa-core variant with no additional co-processor.
The Fujitsu processor, which Eran Briman, vice president of marketing for Ceva, calls "apps processor lite," is believed to be offloading some processing-intensive tasks from Snapdragon.
Audio and voice are also examples of process-intensive tasks, Brinman explained. On one end of the spectrum, some mobile SoCs are expected to stay always-on, at low power, to be ready for voice commands. On the other, there is a growing need for multi-channel surround sound -- even in mobile audio.
Ceva unveiled at CES its Ceva-TeakLite-4 DSP architecture, designed to fit a "differentiation" strategy pursued by mobile SoC vendors. "We added architectural enhancements including new power optimization features, new instruction set architecture, and power scaling unit," said Briman. "And we are doing so by keeping it compatible with the previous generation of TeakLite DSP cores."
Ceva-TeakLite-4 v2 comes in four versions.
The latest DSP architecture release is said to reduce power consumption by up to 20% and enable a reduction in code size of up to 30% for key audio and voice codecs, according to the company. Other enhancements include 50 new instructions, improved 64-bit data processing support, and scalable data bandwidth up to 128-bit.
There are four versions of TeakLite-4 cores, explained Brinman, each with different memory and bus interfaces. The system interface spans from low-power AHB bus to high-performance AXI bus with various master/slave configurations.
Nvidia, in contrast, is bringing its Kepler compute architecture to its Tegra K1 mobile SoC.
Inside Nvidia's Tegra K1 mobile processor (32-bit version).
What matters most in Tegra K1 is the use of Nvidia's CUDA parallel programming platform, in which each of 192 Cuda cores is "programmable," explained Sridhar Ramaswamy, technical marketing manager, responsible for Tegra at Nvidia.
Programmability, in theory, makes it easier to deliver more flexibility and better performance in such applications as speech recognition, live video processing, computer vision, augmented reality, and computer gaming.
Why invest in home-grown apps processors?
Over the last few years, the biggest emphasis among SoC vendors was on developing carrier-certified, multimode, LTE modem technology. After all, the ability to integrate advanced modems into apps processor is what led to Qualcomm's undeniable success in the mobile SoC market with its Snapdragon.
But the pendulum appears to be swinging back.
Beyond Samsung and Apple, a number of mobile system OEMs -- including Huawei, LG, and Lenovo -- are designing apps processors to differentiate their end products. Huawei has been doing so through the company's own chip division, HiSilicon.
At Huawei's CES press conference, the Chinese telecom equipment giant rolled out Ascend Mate 2 4G. In an interview with EE Times, James Jiang, vice president of production solutions for Huawei USA, acknowledged that Ascend Mate 2 is using Qualcomm's Snapdragon apps processor, but some models are based on HiSilicon's home-grown processor.
Asked about differences between the two devices, Jiang said, "On a high level, both are similar. They're both quad-core." Asked why the HiSilicon chip, he explained that it is a way of learning, and the company, eventually, hopes Huawei can design a differentiated product.
MediaTek's president C.J. Hsieh said that by serving the Chinese market, MediaTek is forced to keep pace with the shorter development cycle, lower cost, and advanced features expected by Chinese OEMs. China's mobile devices are no longer about being cheap and nearly identical, he noted. A demand for differentiation among Chinese OEMS has emerged emphatically.
Last year the mobile industry saw the closure of two mobile chip companies: Renesas Mobile and ST-Ericsson. Everyone assumed that they failed because they couldn't keep up with Qualcomm's modem business -- which pretty much owned the global modem market. Ceva's Gideon thinks otherwise. "They failed because they lost the battle in apps processors. They ran out of money before investing more in apps processors."
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times