Introduction and CPU Performance
We had a chance this week to go hands-on with the Snapdragon 820, the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm, in a hardware session featuring prototype handsets powered by this new silicon. How did it perform? Read on to find out!
As you would expect from an all-new flagship part, the Snapdragon 820 offers improvements in virtually every category compared to their previous products. And with the 820 Qualcomm is emphasizing not only performance, but lower power consumption with claims of anywhere from 20% to 10x better efficiency across the components that make up this new SoC. And part of these power savings will undoubtedly come as the result of Qualcomm’s decision to move to a quad-core design with the 820, rather than the 8-core design of the 810.
So what exactly does comprise a high-end SoC like the Snapdragon 820? Ryan covered the launch in detail back in November (and we introduced aspects of the new SoC in a series of articles leading up to the launch). In brief, the Snapdragon 820 includes a custom quad-core CPU (Kryo), the Andreno 530 GPU, a new DSP (Hexagon 680), new ISP (Spectra), and a new LTE modem (X12). The previous flagship Snapdragon 810 used stock ARM cores (Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53) in a big.LITTLE configuration, but for various reasons Qualcomm has chosen not to introduce another 8-core SoC with this new product.
The four Kryo CPU cores found in the Snapdragon 820 can operate at speeds of up to 2.2 GHz, and since is half the number of the octo-core Snapdragon 810, the IPC (instructions per clock) of this new part will help determine how competitive the SD820's performance will be; but there’s a lot more to the story. This SoC design placed equal emphasis on all components therein, and the strategy with the SD820 seems to be leveraging the capability of the advanced signal processing (Hexagon 680) which should help offload the work to allow the CPU to work with greater efficiency, and at lower power.
Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 07:04 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android
Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.
Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.
This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.
Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.
The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.
Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.
The Dinosaur in the Room
Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.
The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.
While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.
Subject: Mobile | December 8, 2015 - 06:05 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: USB 3 Type-C, OxygenOS, oneplus 2, Android
OnePlus is not likely the first source you would think of when purchasing an Android phone but perhaps this review over at Techgage might just change that. As you can see below the phones are rather attractive and OxygenOS is an interesting flavour of Lollipop 5.1.1. The charge cable is also an interesting feature, it is USB Type-C, however the cable it ships with is specific to this phone and you should not be charging other USB devices with it as it is out of spec. While there are advantages to a custom USB cable, there is also some danger associated with it so make sure to keep it separate from your other cables if you intend on picking this phone up.
The hardware includes an 8-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 and Adreno 430 GPU powering a 5.5" 1080p IPS screen. Depending on the model you choose you will either have 16GB local storage and 3GB of DDR4 or 64GB and 4GB. Techgage liked the phone a lot, with a few caveats; check them out in the full review.
"When a smartphone vendor comes along and offers its latest option as a “flagship killer”, it doesn’t exactly leave much room for leeway: it’s either going to be accurate, or off the mark. On paper, the OnePlus 2’s case seems to be solid, so let’s take a hard look at it and see if its promises are lived up to."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Samsung Gear S2 @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4 @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft Demonstrates The Surface Pro 4's Artistic Flair @ Tech ARP
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | December 6, 2015 - 08:10 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers, 860m
Users of notebooks with the GeForce GTX 860M GPU have apparently been experiencing crashes in many new titles. To remedy these issues, NVIDIA has published GeForce Hotfix Driver 359.12. If you do not have the GeForce GTX 860M, and all of your games work correctly, then you probably shouldn't install this. It has not been tested as much as official releases, by either Microsoft or NVIDIA, so other issues could have been introduced and no-one would know.
If you do have that specific GPU though, and you are having problems running certain titles, then you can install the driver now. Otherwise, you can wait for future, WHQL-certified drivers too. Some users are apparently claiming that the issues were fixed, while others complain about crashes in games like Mad Max and Shadow of Mordor.
Subject: Systems, Mobile | December 2, 2015 - 12:09 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: yoga, wacom, ThinkPad Yoga P40, Thinkpad, NVIDIA Quadro M500M, mobile workstation, Lenovo, ips, Intel Core i7
Lenovo has announced a pair of new mobile workstations at the Autodesk University event in Las Vegas, and the front-runner is the latest ThinkPad Yoga.
This new ThinkPad Yoga P40 may look like the previous models, but it's loaded with workstation-level features and specs, beginning with the 2560x1440 IPS display with Wacom Active ES technology that boasts 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. Lenovo says the software driving this digitizer has been carefully optimized with help from Wacom:
"Professional artists and designers have been clear with the need for absolute precision and accuracy. Working with Wacom, Lenovo developed a unique driver to get closer than ever to the ‘pen to paper’ experience. For a comfortable and realistic sketching experience, the rechargeable ThinkPad Pen Pro is included, along with additional pen tips providing varied levels of tactile feedback for the professional community."
The underlying hardware features 6th-Gen Intel Core i7 processors, graphics provided by a 2GB NVIDIA Quadro M500M card, up to 16GB of memory (SoDIMM), a 512 GB SSD, and Intel 8260 2x2 802.11ac wireless. The ThinkPad Yoga P40 also features the Lift 'n Lock keyboard from the original ThinkPad Yoga "with a frame that automatically rises around the keys when the Yoga device switches into tablet mode", and Mil-SPEC construction.
Image credit: Laptop Mag
The ThinkPad P40 Yoga will be available beginning in Q1 2016, and pricing will start at $1399.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | December 1, 2015 - 07:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, LG, Intel, arm
So this story came out of nowhere. Whether the rumors are true or false, I am stuck on how everyone seems to be talking about it with a casual deadpan. I spent a couple hours Googling whether I missed some big announcement that made Intel potentially fabricating ARM chips a mundane non-story. Pretty much all that I found was Intel allowing Altera to make FPGAs with embedded ARM processors in a supporting role, which is old news.
Image Credit: Internet Memes...
The rumor is that Intel and TSMC were both vying to produce LG's Nuclon 2 SoC. This part is said to house two quad-core ARM modules in a typical big.LITTLE formation. Samples were allegedly produced, with Intel's part (2.4 GHx) being able to clock around 300 MHz faster than TSMC's offering (2.1 GHz). Clock rate is highly dependent upon the “silicon lottery,” so this is an area that production maturity can help with. Intel's sample would also be manufactured at 14nm (versus 16nm from TSMC although these numbers mean less than they used to). LG was also, again allegedly, interesting in Intel's LTE modem. According to the rumors, LG went with TSMC because they felt Intel couldn't keep up with demand.
Now that the rumor has been reported... let's step back a bit.
I talked with Josh a couple of days ago about this post. He's quite skeptical (as I am) about the whole situation. First and foremost, it takes quite a bit of effort to port a design to a different manufacturing process. LG could do it, but it is questionable, especially for a second chip ever sort of thing. Moreover, I still believe that Intel doesn't want to manufacture chips that directly compete with them. x86 in phones is still not a viable business, but Intel hasn't given up and you would think that's a prerequisite.
So this whole thing doesn't seem right.
Subject: Mobile | November 28, 2015 - 09:05 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Samsung, s7, galaxy
The follow-up to the Samsung Galaxy S6 is already being rumored, which people are obviously calling the Galaxy S7. The last two phones were unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, which takes place in late February / early March. Information coming out in November is a bit... early. Some sites believe that Samsung will announce the phone in January, but who knows? Some of the rumors are interesting, though.
The one that catches my attention is the potential inclusion of a microSD card slot. External storage is rare these days, with Google removing it from their Nexus line and severely limiting what apps can do with the contents. That said, Android 6.0, recently released for a few devices, made further changes to increase its capabilities. You can now use SD cards as internal storage, but only if you agree to format and encrypt the storage to use only on that device. While the recent batch of Nexus phones don't include a microSD card slot, the changes might be enough to sway third-party manufacturers to include a slot.
As a developer, it would certainly be nice, especially if you intend to develop software that uses an SD card. Makes sense, right? Purchasing a developer phone that has all the features you might want to target?
Speaking of developer phones, the upcoming device should have a top-of-the-line processor in it. Reports are split between the Snapdragon 820 and the Exynos 8890. If it's the latter, availability is expected Q1 2016; the former started sampling a few months ago and was launched on November 11th. As such, SoC availability should be ready if Samsung intends to launch the phone early, regardless of the chosen chip, but that's probably not the limiting factor. It is also entirely possible that Samsung could include different processors for different markets. Qualcomm was absent from the Galaxy S6 line, but the S5 had some sub-models using Qualcomm processors and others Samsung's own implementation.
Either way, they are fast processors that support OpenGL ES 3.1 + AEP at the very least. The Adreno 530 is rated for about 550 GFLOPs, which is a tiny bit faster than a GeForce 9800 GT, although with Vulkan-level feature support (provided correct drivers). Thankfully Google has been more friendly to Khronos-based standards, and Samsung even more so.
When will we know for sure? Don't know. How much will it cost? Don't know. What will it be officially called? Don't know, but anything other than Galaxy S7 would be surprising. Would it make sense for Samsung to shake up the date and other long-running details? Well, the Galaxy S6 launch was lackluster, so this would be the most likely time for them to be squirrely. We'll see.
Subject: Systems, Mobile | November 22, 2015 - 01:30 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Skylake, PCIe SSD, notebook, N752, N552, laptop, ips, Intel Core i7, GTX 960M, asus, 4k
ASUS has added two new laptops to their N series line up premium, entertainment-focused laptops. The new models offer Intel’s 6th-gen (Skylake) Core i7 processors and high resolution IPS displays, as well as fast PCIe storage and discrete NVIDIA graphics.
The new models are the 15.6-inch N552 and 17.3-inch N752, and both sizes offer wide-gamut IPS display options up to 3840x2160 with 100% sRGB coverage. The displays are powered by graphics up to a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M. Quad-core Intel Core i7 processors power both models, with a generous 16GB of RAM standard. Storage is provided via PCIe x4 storage with speeds of 1500 MB/s with capacities up to 512 MB, and external connectivity includes a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port.
While boasting powerful specs these N-series laptops are also geared toward entertainment, with ASUS drawing attention to the sound from their “SonicMaster” audio system, which boasts powerful B&O ICEpower class-D amplification for the laptop’s front-facing speakers. Other features include backlit keys which offer 1.8 mm travel, and aluminum covering the keyboard area and lid.
The new models haven’t shown up on the U.S. product pages just yet, so pricing and availability are not yet known.
Subject: Mobile | November 20, 2015 - 06:23 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: blackberry, Priv, Android
Could it truly be enough to add a little Android to your Blackberry to bring them back to some form of popularity? From what this contributor at The Register has to say it could very well be what the company once known as RIM needed. The Priv is described as the least irritating Android phone they've ever used, which translates to high praise when you are talking about a Blackberry device. The sliding keyboard is actually useful, the BlackBerry DTek security app is decent but requires a Google account to be linked to the phone, as do many other apps. Check out the review to see if this is a berry flavoured Lollipop you might actually want a few licks at.
"Other than that, none of which really counts, I think this might be my least disliked Android phone so far. It’s at least as good as the best Android phones I have used, because it’s the same as all other Androids, just minus the garbage often layered on top. And it’s better, because the BlackBerry stuff layered on top is very far from being garbage."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Best smartphones 2015: BlackBerry Priv, iPhone 6S Plus, OnePlus X @ The Inquirer
- THL 2015A Smartphone Review @ Madshrimps
- iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 3 @ The Inquirer
- Asus ROG G20AJ @ Kitguru
Subject: Mobile | November 18, 2015 - 06:41 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: tegra k1, tablet, shield tablet k1, shield controller, shield, nvidia, gaming tablet, Android
NVIDIA has released their updated version of the SHIELD tablet with a new name, but very little has changed other than the name (now the SHIELD tablet K1) and the price - now $100 less expensive at $199.99.
The SHIELD tablet K1 (pictured case and controller are not included)
Under the hood the 8-inch Android-powered tablet is identical to its predecessor, with the quad-core Tegra K1 processor with its 192 CUDA core GPU powering the gaming action on the 1920x1200 display. The controller is still a separate $59.99 purchase, but of course this is not required to use the tablet.
Here are full specs from NVIDIA:
- Processor: NVIDIA Tegra K1 192 core Kepler GPU (2.2 GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU with 2 GB RAM)
- Display: 8-inch 1920x1200 multi-touch full-HD display
- Audio: Front-facing stereo speakers with built-in microphone
- Storage: 16 GB
- Wireless: 802.11n 2x2 MIMO 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 LE, GPS/GLONASS
- I/O: Mini-HDMI output, Micro-USB 2.0, MicroSD slot, 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support
- Motion Sensors: 3-axis gyro, 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis compass
- Cameras: Front, 5MP HDR; Back, 5MP auto-focus HDR
- Battery: 19.75 Watt Hours
- Dimensions: Weight, 12.6 oz (356 g); H x W x D: 8.8 in (221 mm) x 5.0 in (126 mm) x 0.36 in (9.2 mm)
- Operating System: Android Lollipop
- Gaming Features: SHIELD controller compatible, GeForce NOW cloud gaming service, Console Mode, NVIDIA ShadowPlay
- Included Apps: Google Play, NVIDIA SHIELD Hub, Fallout Shelter, NVIDIA Dabbler, Squid, Twitch
This update really comes down to price, as NVIDIA is being more aggressive about the adoption of their gaming tablet with the new MSRP. This doesn't come without some concessions, however, as the SHIELD tablet K1 ships without any accessories (no USB cable or charger). It's a move remienscent of Nintendo with the "New 3DS XL", which also shipped without a charger, and the standard micro-USB connection should be readily at hand for most of the target audience.
The question of course must be, is this now a more compelling product at $199? It does make the controller seem a bit more affordable considering the bundle will now run $260 - $40 below the previous tablet-only price. Time will tell (and of course you can let us know in the comments below!).
NVIDIA is selling the SHIELD tablet K1 directly from their web store, and it's already on Amazon for the same $199.99 price.