Chip firm MediaTek is readying a 10-core system on a chip (SoC) processor that promises to deliver greater performance for Android smartphones while offering longer battery life thanks to three tiers of cores and some clever scheduling software.
The Helio X20 is the successor to MediaTek's X10, announced earlier this year. The firm expects to start sampling the chip to vendors in the third quarter of this year, and the first handsets are likely to launch at the start of 2016.
Users are familiar with eight-core chips in high-end smartphones, but the Helio X20 has 10 cores arranged into three clusters.
The top tier are a pair of high performance cores based on ARM's latest Cortex-A72 design and clocked at up to 2.5GHz, with a mid-tier of four Cortex-A53 cores running at 2GHz, plus a further tier of Cortex-A53 cores at 1.4GHz.
It also boasts a multi-core ARM Mali-T880 MP4 GPU for graphics, along with an ARM Cortex-M4 core to handle sensor inputs on the target smartphone.
This architecture has been developed to offer more fine-grained control over the level of processing power needed at any given moment when compared with ARM's big.LITTLE technology, according to MediaTek.
"Current CPU architectures aren't really able to deliver on demand from users for all-day use, and we think big.LITTLE has kind of reached its limit now," MediaTek EMEA director for corporate sales Chet Babla told V3.
big.LITTLE offers high performance and low power cluster configuration, but the tri-cluster arrangement on the Helio X20 also provides a mid tier, filling in a "grey area in the middle", according to MediaTek.
Management of this complex tri-cluster arrangement is handled by CorePilot 3.0, a software layer that handles the scheduling of all the cores.
This is able dynamically to mix and match cores from the three clusters to meet the exact processing demands of the workload, according to Babla.
Not content with that, CorePilot can also schedule tasks onto the Mali GPU when appropriate, made possible by the OpenCL API framework.
"Basically it is heterogeneous multi-processing. We've got fine-grained control and we can use one, two, four, six, eight cores in any combination. We've built that extra software layer ourselves and done a very clever scheduling algorithm and thermal and power management to go with it," Babla said.
Android is "very multi-thread friendly", according to Babla, and where imaging and graphics apps lend themselves to GPU acceleration, CorePilot 3.0 makes that possible.
CorePilot can even save on power when the phone screen is off by powering down the main application processors and running the 'OK Google' voice activation code on the Cortex-M4 core, he said.
All of these capabilities mean that handsets based on the Helio X20 should see an increase in battery life of up to 30 percent against the current generation of technology, despite this being a "flagship-worthy" chip that is expected to power top-end smartphones.
The ARM Mali GPU means that the Helio X20 can support 2K graphics (2560x1600) at up to 60fps, or standard HD graphics (1920x1080) at up to 120fps. It is also capable of handling 4K video playback, Babla said.
As a smartphone SoC, the Helio X20 also supports LTE mobile communications up to Cat 6 for 300Mbps download speeds, plus integrated 802.11ac WiFi.
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