Quad-core chips too hot
In application processors, dual core is sweeping the market this year. Nvidia led the way with its Tegra 2 processor already shipping in LG smartphones and Motorola tablets. A half a dozen other dual-core mobile processors from all the leading chip makers will ship in systems this year, Gwennap predicted.
In February Nvidia demonstrated its next generation, the quad-core Tegra 3. Freescale and Qualcomm have announced similar products on the horizon.
"Some of the initial quad-core designs will exceed the thermal limits of what you can do in a smartphone, so you will need to throttle them back and then you won't get the performance you expect," Gwennap said. "Thus quad-cores will be more successful in tablets initially because of their better heat dissipation" until 28nm versions for smartphones are available, he said.
"Quad core itself is not a problem, it's how you use the cores," said Talluri of Qualcomm, noting frequency can be controlled on individual cores on his chips. "Our quad core will be 28nm, and a lot of [thermal management] is in packaging technology--where you stack memory and whether use through silicon vias," he added.
An ARM representative said the company spends a lot of time enabling a "rush to idle" so chips can process a job fast and go back to sleep.
"You still dissipate a lot of power when you run at full speed, and that’s when you run into the thermal issue," Gwennap said.
"Over the next year or two, Nvidia and Qualcomm will duel over the performance lead in apps processors, and TI never quite gets there," said Gwennap. "Broadcom is aiming for lower performance mainstream tablets and feature phone replacements rather than the high-end luxury market [because] you don’t have to be the performance leader to make it in this market," he said.
Intel is likely to find a small but significant foothold in smartphones over time, Gwennap said.
"By 2014, we expect Intel to have pretty competitive products on aggressive process technologies that may be enough to get them in a small number of phones but there are big barriers for them in creating a software ecosystem," he said.
Mobile 3-D graphics are also on a tear moving from dual-core chips this year to quad-core versions soon. However, measuring raw mobile graphics performance remains a challenge, said Gwennap, calling for a mobile graphics benchmark.
The hardware along with new video engines will help process either two 1080-progressive video streams at 24 frames/second for stereo 3-D or 60 frames/s video for picture quality. To handle the load at low power rates will require video engines access system memory directly without going through a host CPU, he said.