ECS Has A New Mini-PC on the Way, the LIVA X

Subject: Systems | December 10, 2014 - 03:03 PM |
Tagged: SoC, mini-pc, LIVA, Intel, ECS, Bay Trail

A new, more powerful ECS mini-PC has been reported by The Tech Report, and this latest iteration of the LIVA will be known as the "X".

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The LIVA X features a faster 2.25GHz dual-core CPU from its Bay Trail SoC, and maximum configurable memory has been doubled to 4GB. OS support has been revised as well, with Windows 7 supported - but only when using an mSATA SSD. The LIVA X still offers full Windows 8.1 support, along with beta Linux driver support as before.

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The LIVA X also offers one more USB 2.0 port than its predecessor, along with the same 32GB or 64GB eMMC storage onboard, Gigabit Ethernet, and included 802.11 wireless N card.

The LIVA proved to be a good value when we reviewed it, though it was underpowered for some desktop tasks. Adding another 2GB of memory as well as a slightly faster CPU will make this new version a very interesting product, depending on price. The new LIVA X hasn't shown up for sale just yet in the usual places, but the product page is up on the ECS site.

AMD Announces Carrizo and Carrizo-L SOCs

Subject: Processors | November 20, 2014 - 01:31 PM |
Tagged: amd, APU, carrizo, Carrizo-L, Kaveri, Excavator, Steamroller, SoC, Intel, mobile

AMD has certainly gone about doing things in a slightly different manner than we are used to.  Today they announced their two latest APUs which will begin shipping in the first half of 2015.  These APUs are running at AMD and are being validated as we speak.  AMD did not release many details on these products, but what we do know is pretty interesting.

Carrizo is based on the latest iteration of AMD’s CPU technology.  Excavator is the codename for these latest CPU cores, and they promise to be smaller and more efficient than the previous Steamroller core which powers the latest Kaveri based APUs.  Carrizo-L is the lower power variant which will be based on the Puma+ core.  The current Beema APU is based on the Puma architecture.

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Roadmaps show that the Carrizo APUs will be 28 nm products, presumably fabricated by GLOBALFOUNDRIES.  Many were hoping that AMD would make the jump to 20 nm with this generation of products, but that does not seem to be the case.  This is not surprising due to the limitations of that particular process when dealing with large designs that require a lot of current.  AMD will likely be pushing for 16 nm FinFET for the generation of products after Carrizo.

The big Carrizo supposedly has a next generation GCN unit.  My guess here is that it will use the same design as we saw with the R9 285.  That particular product is a next generation unit that has improved efficiency.  AMD did not release how many GCN cores will be present in Carizzo, but it will be very similar to what we see now with Kaveri.  Carrizo-L will use the same GCN units as the previous generation Beema based products.

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I believe AMD has spent a lot more time hand tuning Excavator instead of relying on a lot of automated place and route.  This should allow them to retain much of the performance of the part, all the while cutting down on transistor count dramatically.  Some rumors that I have seen point to each Excavator module being 40% smaller than Steamroller.  I am not entirely sure they have achieved that type of improvement, but more hand layout does typically mean greater efficiency and less waste.  The downside to hand layout is that it is extremely time and manpower intensive.  Intel can afford this type of design while AMD has to rely more on automated place and route.

Carrizo will be the first HSA 1.0 compliant SOC.  It is in fact an SOC as it integrates the southbridge functions that previously had been handled by external chips like the A88X that supports the current Kaveri desktop APUs.  Carrizo and Carrizo-L will also share the same infrastructure.  This means that motherboards that these APUs will be soldered onto are interchangeable.  One motherboard from the partner OEMs will be able to address multiple markets that will see products range from 4 watts TDP up to 35 watts.

Finally, both APUs feature the security processor that allows them access to the ARM TrustZone technology.  This is a very small ARM processor that handles the secure boot partition and handles the security requests.  This puts AMD on par with Intel and their secure computing solution (vPro).

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These products will be aimed only at the mobile market.  So far AMD has not announced Carrizo for the desktop market, but when they do I would imagine that they will hit a max TDP of around 65 watts.  AMD claims that Carrizo is one of the biggest jumps for them in terms of power efficiency.  A lot of different pieces of technology have all come together with this product to make them more competitive with Intel and their process advantage.  Time will tell if this is the case, but for now AMD is staying relevant and pushing their product releases so that they are more consistently ontime.

Source: AMD
Author:
Manufacturer: Apple

One Small Step

While most articles surrounding the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus this far have focused around user experience and larger screen sizes, performance, and in particular the effect of Apple's transition to the 20nm process node for the A8 SoC have been our main questions regarding these new phones. Naturally, I decided to put my personal iPhone 6 though our usual round of benchmarks.

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First, let's start with 3DMark.

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Comparing the 3DMark scores of the new Apple A8 to even the last generation A7 provides a smaller improvement than we are used to seeing generation-to-generation with Apple's custom ARM implementations. When you compare the A8 to something like the NVIDIA Tegra K1, which utilizes desktop-class GPU cores, the overall score blows Apple out of the water. Even taking a look at the CPU-bound physics score, the K1 is still a winner.

A 78% performance advantage in overall score when compared the A8 shows just how much of a powerhouse NVIDIA has with the K1. (Though clearly power envelopes are another matter entirely.)

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If we look at more CPU benchmarks, like the browser-based Google Octane and SunSpider tests, the A8 starts to shine more.

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While the A8 edges out the A7 to be the best performing device and 54% faster than the K1 in SunSpider, the A8 and K1 are neck and neck in the Google Octane benchmark.

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Moving back to a graphics heavy benchmark, GFXBench's Manhattan test, the Tegra K1 has a 75% percent performance advantage over the A8 though it is 36% faster than the previous A7 silicon.

These early results are certainly a disappointment compared to the usual generation-to-generation performance increase we see with Apple SoCs.

However, the other aspect to look at is power efficiency. With normal use I have noticed a substantial increase in battery life of my iPhone 6 over the last generation iPhone 5S. While this may be due to a small (about 1 wH) increase in battery capacity, I think more can be credited to this being an overall more efficient device. Certain choices like sticking to a highly optimized Dual Core CPU design and Quad Core GPU, as well as a reduction in process node to 20nm all contribute to increased battery life, while surpassing the performance of the last generation Apple A7.

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In that way, the A8 moves the bar forward for Apple and is a solid first attempt at using the 20nm silicon technology at TSMC. There is a strong potential that further refined parts (like the expected A8x for the iPad revisions) Apple will be able to further surpass 28nm silicon in performance and efficiency.

Intel Expands x86 SoC Program to Tsinghua Unigroup

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | September 27, 2014 - 02:38 PM |
Tagged: Intel, spreadtrum, rda, Rockchip, SoC

A few months ago, Intel partnered with Rockchip to develop low-cost SoCs for Android. The companies would work together on a design that could be fabricated at TSMC. This time Intel is partnering with Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd. and, unlike Rockchip, also investing in them. The deal will be up to $1.5 billion USD in exchange for a 20% share (approximately) of a division of Tsinghua.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

Intel is hoping to use this partnership to develop mobile SoCs, for smart (and "feature") phones, tablets, and other devices, and get significant presence in the Chinese mobile market. Tsinghua acquired Spreadtrum Communications and RDA Microelectronics within the last two years. The "holding group" that owns these division is apparently the part of Tsinghua which Intel is investing in, specifically.

Spreadtrum will produce SoCs based on Intel's "Intel Architecture". This sounds like they are referring to the 32-bit IA-32, which means that Spreadtrum would be developing 32-bit SoCs, but it is possible that they could be talking about Intel 64. These products are expected for 2H'15.

Source: Intel

First Apple A8 Benchmarks Show... "Modest" Increase

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | September 12, 2014 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: apple, apple a8, SoC, iphone 6, iphone 6 plus

So one of the first benchmarks for Apple's A8 SoC has been published to Rightware, and it is not very different from its predecessor. The Apple A7 GPU of last year's iPhone 5S received a score of 20,253.80 on the Basemark X synthetic benchmark. The updated Apple A8 GPU, found on the iPhone 6, saw a 4.7% increase, to 21204.26, on the same test.

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Again, this is a synthetic benchmark and not necessarily representative of real-world performance. To me, though, it wouldn't surprise me if the GPU is identical, and the increase corresponds mostly to the increase in CPU performance. That said, it still does not explain the lack of increase that we see, despite Apple's switch to TSMC's 20nm process. Perhaps it matters more in power consumption and non-gaming performance? That does not align well with their 20% faster CPU and 50% faster GPU claims...

Speaking of gaming performance, iOS 8 introduces the Metal API, which is Apple's response to Mantle, DirectX 12, and OpenGL Next Initiative. Maybe that boost will give Apple a pass for a generation? Perhaps we will see the two GPUs (A7 and A8) start to diverge in the Metal API? We shall see when more benchmarks and reviews get published.

Source: Rightware

Run Windows on Intel's Galileo

Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2014 - 12:35 PM |
Tagged: galileo, Intel, windows, SoC

Intel's first generation low powered SoC which goes by the name of Galileo and is powered by a 400MHz Quark X1000 is now capable of running Windows with the help of the latest firmware update.  Therefore if you are familiar enough with their tweaked Arduino IDE you should be able to build a testbed for low powered machines that will be running Windows.  You will want to have some time on hand, loading Windows to the microSD card can take up to two hours and those used to SSDs will be less than impressed with the boot times.  For developers this is not an issue and well worth the wait as it gives them a brand new tool to work with.  Pop by The Register for the full details of the firmware upgrade and installation process.

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"Windows fans can run their OS of choice on Intel’s counter to Raspberry Pi, courtesy of an Intel firmware update."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Panasonic ARMs will be fabbed at Intel

Subject: General Tech | July 8, 2014 - 01:40 PM |
Tagged: SoC, Panasonic, Intel, arm

Intel has been fabbing ARM chips for Altera since the end of last year after their unprecedented move of allowing non-Intel designs into their fabs.  This decision allowed Intel to increase the percentage of time the fabs were active, as they are no longer able to keep them at full capacity with their own chips and have even mothballed the new Fab 42 in Arizona.  Altera is a good customer, as are Tabula, Netronome and Microsemi but together they are still not enough to bring Intel's capacity close to 100%.  The Register has reported on a new contract with the ink still wet from signing; Panasonic will now be using Intel's Fabs for their ARM based SoCs.   The immense size of Panasonic should keep Intel busy and ensure that they continue to make mountains of money licensing their 14nm-process tri-Gate transistors as well as the Fab time.

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"Intel has notched up another customer for its fledgling Foundry business as it tries to make money out of its manufacturing and engineering expertise besides x86 processor sales.

The world's most valuable chip manufacturer said on Monday that Panasonic's audio-visual gear will make future system-on-chips (SoCs) in Intel's factories."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Register

Intel Announces "Cars Are Things" - with New Automotive Platform

Subject: General Tech | May 30, 2014 - 10:21 AM |
Tagged: SoC, linux, internet of things, Intel, automotive, automation, atom

Imagine: You get into the family car and it knows that it’s you, so it adjusts everything just the way you like it. You start driving and your GPS is superimposed over the road in real time from within your windshield, with virtual arrows pointing to your next turn. Kids play games on their touchscreen windows in the back, and everyone travels safely as their cars anticipate accidents...

Sound far-fetched? Work is already being done to make things like these a reality, and Intel has now announced their stake in the future of connected, and eventually autonomous, automobiles.

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Intel's new automotive computing platform

Ensuring that every device in our lives is always connected seems like the goal of many companies going forward, and the “Internet of Things” is a very real, and rapidly growing, part of the business world. Intel is no exception, and since cars are things (as I’ve been informed) it makes sense to look in this area as well, right? Well, Intel has announced development of their automotive initiative, with the overall goal to create safer - and eventually autonomous - cars. Doug Davis, Corporate VP, Internet of Things Group at Intel, hosted the online event, which began with a video depicting automotive travel in a fully connected world. It doesn’t seem that far away...

"We are combining our breadth of experience in consumer electronics and enterprise IT with a holistic automotive investment across product development, industry partnerships and groundbreaking research efforts,” Davis said. “Our goal is to fuel the evolution from convenience features available in the car today to enhanced safety features of tomorrow and eventually self-driving capabilities.”

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So how exactly does this work? The tangible element of Intel’s vision of connected, computer controlled vehicles begins with the In-Vehicle Solutions Platform which provides Intel silicon to automakers. And as it’s an “integrated solution” Intel points out that this should cut time and expense from the current, more complex methods employed in assembling automotive computer systems. Makes sense, since they are delivering a complete Intel Atom based system platform, powered by the E3800 processor. The OS is Tizen IVI ("automotive grade" Linux). A development kit was also announced, and there are already companies creating systems using this platform, according to Intel.

Source: Intel

Intel Announces Partnership with Rockchip to Produce Low-Cost x86 Atom SoC

Subject: Processors | May 28, 2014 - 05:09 PM |
Tagged: tablet, SoC, Rockchip, mobile, Intel, atom, arm, Android

While details about upcoming Haswell-E processors were reportedly leaking out, an official announcement from Intel was made on Tuesday about another CPU product - and this one isn't a high-end desktop part. The chip giant is partnering with the fabless semiconductor manufacturer Rockchip to create a low-cost SoC for Android devices under the Intel name, reportedly fabricated at TSMC.

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We saw almost exactly the opposite of this arrangement last October, when it was announced that Altera would be using Intel to fab ARMv8 chips. Try to digest this: Instead of Intel agreeing to manufacture another company's chip with ARM's architecture in their fabs, they are going through what is said to be China's #1 tablet SoC manufacturer to produce x86 chips...at TSMC? It's a small - no, a strange world we live in!

From Intel's press release: "Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will deliver an Intel-branded mobile SoC platform. The quad-core platform will be based on an Intel® Atom™ processor core integrated with Intel's 3G modem technology."

As this upcoming x86 SoC is aimed at entry-level Android tablets this announcement might not seem to be exciting news at first glance, but it fills a short term need for Intel in their quest for market penetration in the ultramobile space dominated by ARM-based SoCs. The likes of Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung, TI, and others (including Rockchip's RK series) currently account for 90% of the market, all using ARM.

As previously noted, this partnership is very interesting from an industry standpoint, as Intel is sharing their Atom IP with Rockchip to make this happen. Though if you think back, the move is isn't unprecedented... I recall something about a little company called Advanced Micro Devices that produced x86 chips for Intel in the past, and everything seemed to work out OK there...

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When might we expect these new products in the Intel chip lineup codenamed SoFIA? Intel states "the dual-core 3G version (is) expected to ship in the fourth quarter of this year, the quad-core 3G version...expected to ship in the first half of 2015, and the LTE version, also due in the first half of next year." And again, this SoC will only be available in low-cost Android tablets under this partnership (though we might speculate on, say, an x86 SoC powered Surface or Ultrabook in the future?).

Source: Intel

Qualcomm Reveals New Flagship Snapdragon 808 and 810 64-Bit SoCs Coming In 2015

Subject: Mobile | April 8, 2014 - 07:47 PM |
Tagged: SoC, snapdragon, qualcomm, LTE, ARMv8, adreno, 64-bit

Qualcomm has announced two new flagship 64-bit SoCs with the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810. The new chips will begin sampling later this year and should start showing up in high end smartphones towards the second half of 2015. The new 800-series parts join the previously announced mid-range Snapdragon 610 and 615 which are also 64-bit ARMv8 parts.

The Snapdragon 810 is Qualcomm's new flagship processor. The chip features four ARM Cortex A57 cores and four Cortex A53 cores in a big.LITTLE configuration, an Adreno 430 GPU, and support for Category 6 LTE (up to 300 Mbps downloads) and LPDDR4 memory. This flagship part uses the 64-bit ARMv8 ISA. The new Adreno 430 GPU integrated in the SoC is reportedly 30% faster than the Adreno 420 GPU in the Snapdragon 805 processor.

Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC.jpg

In addition to the flagship part, Qualcomm is also releasing the Snapdragon 808 which pairs two Cortex A57 CPU cores and four Cortex A53 CPU cores in a big.LITTLE configuration with an Adreno 418 (approximately 20% faster than the popular Adreno 320) GPU. This chip supports LPDDR3 memory and Qualcomm's new Category 6 LTE modem.

Both the 808 and 810 have Adreno GPUs which support OpenGL ES 3.1. The new chips support a slew of wireless I/O including Categrory 6 LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and NFC.

Qualcomm is reportedly planning to produce these SoCs on a 20nm process. For reference, the mid-range 64-bit Snapdragon 610 and 615 use a 28nm LP manufacturing process. The new 20nm process (presumably from TSMC) should enable improved battery life and clockspeed headroom on the flagship parts. Exactly how big the mentioned gains will be will depend on the specific manufacturing process, with smaller gains from a bulk/planar process shrink or greater improvements coming from more advanced methods such as FD-SOI if the new chip on a 20nm process is the same transistor count as one on a 28nm process (which is being used in existing chips).

The 808 and 810 parts are the new high-end 64-bit chips which will effectively supplant the 32-bit Snapdragon 805 which is a marginal update over the Snapdragon 800. The naming conventions and product lineups are getting a bit crazy here, but suffice it to say that the 808 and 810 are the effective successors to the 800 while the 805 is a stop-gap upgrade while Qualcomm moves to 64-bit ARMv8 and secures manufacturing for the new chips which should be slightly faster CPU-wise, notably faster GPU-wise and more capable with the faster cellular modem support and 64-bit ISA support.

For those wondering, the press release also states that the company is still working on development of its custom 64-bit Krait CPU architecture. However, it does not appear that 64-bit Krait will be ready by the first half of 2015, which is why Qualcomm has opted to use ARM's Cortex A57 and A53 cores in its upcoming flagship 808 and 810 SoCs.

Source: Qualcomm