Podcast #369 - Fable Legends DX12 Benchmark, Apple A9 SoC, Intel P3608 SSD, and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 1, 2015 - 02:17 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, fable legends, dx12, apple, A9, TSMC, Samsung, 14nm, 16nm, Intel, P3608, NVMe, logitech, g410, TKL, nvidia, geforce now, qualcomm, snapdragon 820

PC Perspective Podcast #369 - 10/01/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the Fable Legends DX12 Benchmark, Apple A9 SoC, Intel P3608 SSD, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Allyn Malventano

Program length: 1:42:35

  1. Week in Review:
  2. 0:54:10 This episode of PC Perspective is brought to you by…Zumper, the quick and easy way to find your next apartment or home rental. To get started and to find your new home go to http://zumper.com/PCP
  3. News item of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
  5. Closing/outro

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Apple Dual Sources A9 SOCs with TSMC and Samsung: Some Extra Thoughts

Subject: Processors | September 30, 2015 - 09:55 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, Samsung, FinFET, apple, A9, 16 nm, 14 nm

So the other day the nice folks over at Chipworks got word that Apple was in fact sourcing their A9 SOC at both TSMC and Samsung.  This is really interesting news on multiple fronts.  From the information gleaned the two parts are the APL0898 (Samsung fabbed) and the APL1022 (TSMC).

These process technologies have been in the news quite a bit.  As we well know, it has been a hard time for any foundry to go under 28 nm in an effective way if your name is not Intel.  Even Intel has had some pretty hefty issues with their march to sub 32 nm parts, but they have the resources and financial ability to push through a lot of these hurdles.  One of the bigger problems that affected the foundries was the idea that they could push back FinFETs beyond what they were initially planning.  The idea was to hit 22/20 nm and use planar transistors and push development back to 16/14 nm for FinFET technology.


The Chipworks graphic that explains the differences between Samsung's and TSMC's A9 products.

There were many reasons why this did not work in an effective way for the majority of products that the foundries were looking to service with a 22/20 nm planar process.  Yes, there were many parts that were fabricated using these nodes, but none of them were higher power/higher performance parts that typically garner headlines.  No CPUs, no GPUs, and only a handful of lower power SOCs (most notably Apple's A8, which was around 89 mm squared and consumed up to 5 to 10 watts at maximum).  The node just did not scale power very effectively.  It provided a smaller die size, but it did not increase power efficiency and switching performance significantly as compared to 28 nm high performance nodes.

The information Chipworks has provided also verifies that Samsung's 14 nm FF process is more size optimized than TSMC's 16 nm FF.  There was originally some talk about both nodes being very similar in overall transistor size and density, but Samsung has a slightly tighter design.  Neither of them are smaller than Intel's latest 14 nm which is going into its second generation form.  Intel still has a significant performance and size advantage over everyone else in the field.  Going back to size we see the Samsung chip is around 96 mm square while the TSMC chip is 104.5 mm square.  This is not huge, but it does show that the Samsung process is a little tighter and can squeeze more transistors per square mm than TSMC.

In terms of actual power consumption and clock scaling we have nothing to go on here.  The chips are both represented in the 6S and 6S+.  Testing so far has not shown there to be significant differences between the two SOCs so far.  In theory one could be performing better than the other, but in reality we have not tested these chips at a low enough level to discern any major performance or power issue.  My gut feeling here is that Samsung's process is more mature and running slightly better than TSMC's, but the differences are going to be minimal at best.

The next piece of info that we can glean from this is that there just isn't enough line space for all of the chip companies who want to fabricate their parts with either Samsung or TSMC.  From a chip standpoint a lot of work has to be done to port a design to two different process nodes.  While 14 and 16 are similar in overall size and the usage of FinFETS, the standard cells and design libraries for both Samsung and TSMC are going to be very different.  It is not a simple thing to port over a design.  A lot of work has to be done in the design stage to make a chip work with both nodes.  I can tell you that there is no way that both chips are identical in layout.  It is not going to be a "dumb port" where they just adjust the optics with the same masks and magically make these chips work right off the bat.  Different mask sets for each fab, verification of both designs, and troubleshooting the yields by metal layer changes will be different for each manufacturer.

In the end this means that there just simply was not enough space at either TSMC or Samsung to handle the demand that Apple was expecting.  Because Apple has deep pockets they contracted out both TSMC and Samsung to produce two very similar, but still different parts.  Apple also likely outbid and locked down what availability to process wafers that Samsung and TSMC have, much to the dismay of other major chip firms.  I have no idea what is going on in the background with people like NVIDIA and AMD when it comes to line space for manufacturing their next generation parts.  At least for AMD it seems that their partnership with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and their version of 14 nm FF is having a hard time taking off.  Eventually more space will be made in production and yields and bins will improve.  Apple will stop taking up so much space and we can get other products rolling off the line.  In the meantime, enjoy that cutting edge iPhone 6S/+ with the latest 14/16 nm FF chips.

Source: Chipworks
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: ARM

Cortex-A12 Optimized!

ARM is an interesting little company.  Years ago people would have no idea who you are talking about, but now there is a much greater appreciation for the company.  Their PR group is really starting to get the hang of getting their name out.  One thing that ARM does that is significantly different from what other companies do is announce products far in advance of when they will actually be seeing the light of day.  Today they are announcing the Cortex-A17 IP that will ship in 2015.
ARM really does not have much of a choice in how they announce their technology, primarily because they rely on 3rd parties to actually ship products.  ARM licenses their IP to guys like Samsung, Qualcomm, Ti, NVIDIA, etc. and then wait for them to actually build and ship product.  I guess part of pre-announcing these bits of IP provides a greater push for their partners to actually license that specific IP due to end users and handset makers showing interest?  Whatever the case, it is interesting to see where ARM is heading with their technology.
The Cortex-A17 can be viewed as a more supercharged version of the Cortex-A12, but with features missing from that particular product.  The big advancement over the A12 is that the A17 can be utilized in a big.LITTLE configuration with Cortex-A7 IP.  The A17 is more power optimized as well so it can go into a sleep state faster than the A12, and it also features more memory controller tweaks to improve performance while again lowering power consumption.
In terms of overall performance it gets a pretty big boost as compared to the very latest Cortex-A9r4 designs (such as the Tegra 4i).  Numbers bandied about by ARM show that the A17 is around 60% faster than the A9, and around 40% faster than the A12.  These numbers may or may not jive with real-world experience due to differences in handset and tablet designs, but theoretically speaking they look to be in the ballpark.  The A17 should be close in overall performance to A15 based SOCs.  A15s are shipping now, but they are not as power efficient as what ARM is promising with the A17.
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: ARM
Tagged: t622, mali, cortex, arm, A9, A15, a12

Cortex-A12 fills a gap

Starting off Computex with an interesting announcement, ARM is talking about a new Cortex-A12 core that will attempt to address a performance gap in the SoC ecosystem between the A9 and A15.  In the battle to compete with Krait and Intel's Silvermont architecture due in late 2013, ARM definitely needed to address the separation in performance and efficiency of the A9 and A15. 


Source: ARM.  Top to bottom: Cortex-A15, A12, A9 die size estimate

Targeted at mid-range devices that tend to be more cost (and thus die-size) limited, the Cortex-A12 will ship in late 2014 for product sampling and you should begin seeing hardware for sale in early 2015.


Architecturally, the changes for the upcoming A12 core revolve around a move to fully out of order dual-issue design including the integrated floating point units.  The execution units are faster and the memory design has been improved but ARM wasn't ready to talk about specifics with me yet; expect that later in the year. 


ARM claims this results in a 40% performance gain for the Cortex-A12 over the Cortex-A9, tested in SPECint.  Because product won't even start sampling until late in 2014 we have no way to verify this data yet or to evaluate efficiency claims.  That time lag between announcement and release will also give competitors like Intel, AMD and even Qualcomm time to answer back with potential earlier availability.

Continue reading our overview of the newly announced ARM Cortex-A12 and Mali-T622!!

MWC 12: TI OMAP5 will beat your A9 with its own two cores

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 25, 2012 - 07:06 PM |
Tagged: texas instruments, MWC 12, arm, A9, A15

Texas Instruments could not wait until Mobile World Congress to start throwing punches. Despite their recent financial problems resulting in the closure of two fabrication plants TI believes that their product should speak for itself. Texas Instruments recently released a video showing their dual-core OMAP5 processor based on the ARM Cortex-A15 besting a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 in rendering websites.

Chuck Norris joke.

Even with being at a two core disadvantage the 800 MHz OMAP5 processor was clocked 40 percent slower than the 1.3 GHz Cortex A9. The OMAP5 is said to be able to reach 2.5 GHz if necessary when released commercially.

Certain portions of the video did look a bit fishy however. Firstly, CNet actually loaded quicker on the A9 processor but it idled a bit before advancing to the second page. The A9 could have been stuck loading an object that the OMAP 5 did not have an issue with, but it does seem a bit weird.

About the fishiest part of the video is that the Quad-Core A9, which we assume to be a Tegra 3, is running on Honeycomb where the OMAP5 is running Ice Cream Sandwich.  Ice Cream Sandwich has been much enhanced for performance over Honeycomb.

We have no doubt that the ARM Cortex-A15 will be much improved over the current A9. The issue here is that TI cannot successfully prove that with this demonstration.