Lenovo Allegedly Expanding Chip Design Team, Will Design Its Own Mobile Processors

Subject: Processors | April 3, 2013 - 08:35 AM |
Tagged: mobile, Lenovo, electrical engineering, chip design, arm

According to a recent article in the EE Times, Beijing-based PC OEM Lenovo many be entering the mobile chip design business. An anonymous source allegedly familiar with the matter has indicated that Lenovo will be expanding its Integrated Circuits design team to 100 engineers by the second-half of this year. Further, Lenovo will reportedly task the newly-expanded team with designing an ARM processor of its own to join the ranks of Apple, Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Huawei, Samsung, and others.

It is unclear whether Lenovo simply intends to license an existing ARM core and graphics module or if the design team expansion is merely the begining of a growing division that will design a custom chip for its smartphones and Chromebooks to truly differentiate itself and take advantage of vertical integration.

Junko Yoshida of the EE Times article notes that Lenovo was turned away by Samsung when it attempted to use the company's latest Exynos Octa processor. I think that might contribute to the desire to have its own chip design team, but it may also be that the company believes it can compete in a serious way and set its lineup of smartphones apart from the crowd (as Apple has managed to do) as it pursues further Chinese market share and slowly moves its phones into the United States market.

Details are scarce, but it is at least an intriguing protential future for the company. It will be interesting to see if Lenovo is able to make it work in this extremely-competitive and expensive area.

Do you think Lenovo has what it takes to design its own mobile chip? Is it a good idea?

Source: EE Times

CEO Jen-Hsun Huang Sells Windows RT... A Little Bit.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Processors, Shows and Expos | March 20, 2013 - 06:26 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, nvidia, GTC 2013

NVIDIA develops processors, but without an x86 license they are only able to power ARM-based operating systems. When it comes to Windows, that means Windows Phone or Windows RT. The latter segment of the market has disappointing sales according to multiple OEMs, which Microsoft blames them for, but the jolly green GPU company is not crying doomsday.

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NVIDIA just skimming the Surface RT, they hope.

As reported by The Verge, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was optimistic that Microsoft would eventually let Windows RT blossom. He noted how Microsoft very often "gets it right" at some point when they push an initiative. And it is true, Microsoft has a history of turning around perceived disasters across a variety of devices.

They also have a history of, as they call it, "knifing the baby."

I think there is a very real fear for some that Microsoft could consider Intel's latest offerings as good enough to stop pursuing ARM. Of course, the more the pursue ARM, the more their business model will rely upon the-interface-formerly-known-as-Metro and likely all of its certification politics. As such, I think it is safe to say that I am watching the industry teeter on a fence with a bear on one side and a pack of rabid dogs on the other. On the one hand, Microsoft jumping back to Intel would allow them to perpetuate the desktop and all of the openness it provides. On the other hand, even if they stick with Intel they likely will just kill the desktop anyway, for the sake of user confusion and the security benefits of cert. We might just have less processor manufacturers when they do that.

So it could be that NVIDIA is confident that Microsoft will push Windows RT, or it could be that NVIDIA is pushing Microsoft to continue to develop Windows RT. Frankly, I do not know which would be better... or more accurately, worse.

Source: The Verge

Welcome Richland, another refined die from AMD

Subject: Processors | March 12, 2013 - 02:52 PM |
Tagged: VLIW4, trinity, Richland, piledriver, notebook, mobile, hd 8000, APU, amd, A10-5750

The differences between Richland and Trinity are not earth shattering but there are certainly some refinements implemented by AMD in the A10-5750.  One very noticeable one is support for DDR3-1866 as well as better power management for both the CPU and GPU; with new temperature balancing algorithms and measurement the ability to balance the load properly has increased from Trinity.  Many AMD users will be more interested in the GPU portion of the die than the CPU, as that is where AMD actually has as lead on Intel and this particular chip contains the HD8650G, with clocks of 720MHz boost and 533MHz base and increase from the previous generation of 35 and 37MHz respectively.  You can read more about the other three models that will be released over at The Tech Report.

Don't forget Josh either!

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"AMD has formally introduced the first members of its Richland APU family. We have the goods on the chips and Richland's new power management tech, which combines temperature-based inputs with bottleneck-aware clock boosting."

Here are some more Processor articles from around the web:

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Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Exposes Richland

When we first heard about “Richland” last year, there was a little bit of excitement from people.  Not many were sure what to expect other than a faster “Trinity” based CPU with a couple extra goodies.  Today we finally get to see what Richland is.  While interesting, it is not necessarily exciting.  While an improvement, it will not take AMD over the top in the mobile market.  What it actually brings to the table is better competition and a software suite that could help to convince buyers to choose AMD instead of a competing Intel part.

From a design standpoint, it is nearly identical to the previous Trinity.  That being said, a modern processor is not exactly simple.  A lot of software optimizations can be applied to these products to increase performance and efficiency.  It seems that AMD has done exactly that.  We had heard rumors that the graphics portion was in fact changed, but it looks like it has stayed the same.  Process improvements have been made, but that is about the extent of actual hardware changes to the design.

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The new Richland APUs are branded the A-5000 series of products.  The top end is the A10-5750M with HD-8650 integrated graphics.  This is still the VLIW-4 based graphics unit seen in the previous Trinity products, but enough changes have been made with software that I can enable Dual Graphics with the new Solar System based GPUs (GCN).  The speeds of these products have received a nice boost.  As compared to the previous top end A10-4600, the 5750 takes the base speed from 2.3 GHz to 2.5 GHz.  Boost goes from 3.2 GHz up to 3.5 GHz.  The graphics portion takes the base clock from 496 MHz up to 533 MHz, while turbo mode improves over the 4600 from 685 MHz to 720 MHz.  These are not staggering figures, but it all still fits within the 35 watt TDP of the previous product.

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One other important improvement is the ability to utilize DDR-3 1866 memory.  Throughout the past year we have seen memory densities increase fairly dramatically without impacting power consumption.  This goes for speed as well.  While we would expect to see lower power DIMMs be used in the thin and light categories, expect to see faster DDR-3 1866 in the larger notebooks that will soon be heading our way.

Click here to read more about AMD's Richland APUs!

NVIDIA Releases Tegra 4i: I Shall Name It... Mini-Me!

Subject: Processors | February 20, 2013 - 09:35 PM |
Tagged: Tegra 4i, tegra 4, tegra 3, Tegra 2, tegra, phoenix, nvidia, icera, i500

 

The NVIDIA Tegra 4 and Shield project were announced at this year’s CES, but there were other products in the pipeline that were just not quite ready to see the light of day at that time.  While Tegra 4 is an impressive looking part for mobile applications, it is not entirely appropriate for the majority of smart phones out there.  Sure, the nebulous “Superphone” category will utilize Tegra 4, but that is not a large part of the smartphone market.  The two basic issues with Tegra 4 is that it pulls a bit more power at the rated clockspeeds than some manufacturers like, and it does not contain a built-in modem for communication needs.

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The die shot of the Tegra 4i.  A lot going on in this little guy.

NVIDIA bought up UK modem designer Icera to help create true all-in-one SOCs.  Icera has a unique method with building their modems that they say is not only more flexible than what others are offering, but also much more powerful.  These modems skip a lot of fixed function units that most modems are made of and rely on high speed general purpose compute units and an interesting software stack to create smaller modems with greater flexibility when it comes to wireless standards.  At CES NVIDIA showed off the first product of this acquisition, the i500.  This is a standalone chip and is set to be offered with the Tegra 4 SOC.

Yesterday NVIDIA introduced the Tegra 4i, formerly codenamed “Grey”.  This is a combined Tegra SOC with the Icera i500 modem.  This is not exactly what we were expecting, but the results are actually quite exciting.  Before I get too out of hand about the possibilities of the chip, I must make one thing perfectly clear.  The chip itself will not be available until Q4 2013.  It will be released in limited products with greater availability in Q1 2014.  While NVIDIA is announcing this chip, end users will not get to use it until much later this year.  I believe this issue is not so much that NVIDIA cannot produce the chips, but rather the design cycles of new and complex cell phones do not allow for rapid product development.

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Tegra 4i really should not be confused for the slightly earlier Tegra 4.  The 4i actually uses the 4th revision of the Cortex A9 processor rather than the Cortex A15 in the Tegra 4.  The A9 has been a mainstay of modern cell phone processors for some years now and offers a great deal of performance when considering die size and power consumption.  The 4th revision improves IPC of the A9 in a variety of ways (memory management, prefetch, buffers, etc.), so it will perform better than previous Cortex A9 solutions.  Performance will not approach that provided by the much larger and complex A15 cores, but it is a nice little boost from what we have previously seen.

The Tegra 4 features a 72 core GPU (though NVIDIA has still declined to detail the specifics of their new mobile graphics technology- these ain’t Kepler though), while the 4i features a nearly identical unit featuring 60 cores.  There is no word so far as to what speed these will be running at or how performance really compares to the latest graphics products from ARM, Imagination, or Qualcomm.

The chip is made on TSMC’s 28 nm HPM process and features core speeds up to 2.3 GHz.  We again have no information on if that will be all four cores at that speed or turbo functionality with one core.  The design adopts the previous 4+1 core setup with four high speed cores and one power saving core.  Considering how small each core is (Cortex A9 or A15) it is not a waste of silicon as compared to the potential power savings.  The HPM process is the high power version rather than the LPM (low power) used for Tegra 4.  My guess here is that the A9 cores are not going to pull all that much power anyway due to their simpler design as compared to A15.  Hitting 2.3 GHz is also a factor in the process decision.  Also consider that +1 core that is fabricated slightly differently than the other four to allow for slower transistor switching speed with much lower leakage.

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The die size looks to be in the 60 to 65 mm squared range.  This is not a whole lot larger than the original Tegra 2 which was around 50 mm squared.  Consider that the Tegra 4i has three more cores, a larger and more able GPU portion, and the integrated Icera i500 modem.  The modem is a full Cat 3 LTE capable unit (100 mbps), so bandwidth should not be an issue for this phone.  The chip has all of the features of the larger Tegra 4, such as the Computational Photography Architecture, Image Signal Processor, video engine, and the “optimized memory interface”.  All of those neat things that NVIDIA showed off at CES will be included.  The only other major feature that is not present is the ability to output 3200x2000 resolutions.  This particular chip is limited to 1920x1200.  Not a horrific tradeoff considering this will be a smartphone SOC with a max of 1080P resolution for the near future.

We expect to see Tegra 4 out in late Q2 in some devices, but not a lot.  While Tegra 4 is certainly impressive, I would argue that Tegra 4i is the more marketable product with a larger chance of success.  If it were available today, I would expect its market impact to be similar to what we saw with the original 28nm Krait SOCs from Qualcomm last year.  There is simply a lot of good technology in this core.  It is small, it has a built-in modem, and performance per mm squared looks to be pretty tremendous.  Power consumption will be appropriate for handhelds, and perhaps might turn out to be better than most current solutions built on 28 nm and 32 nm processes.

NV_Phoenix.png

NVIDIA also developed the Phoenix Reference Phone which features the Tegra 4i.  This is a rather robust looking unit with a 5” screen and 1080P resolution.  It has front and rear facing cameras, USB and HDMI ports, and is only 8 mm thin.  Just as with the original Tegra 3 it features the DirectTouch functionality which uses the +1 core to handle all touch inputs.  This makes it more accurate and sensitive as compared to other solutions on the market.

Overall I am impressed with this product.  It is a very nice balance of performance, features, and power consumption.  As mentioned before, it will not be out until Q4 2013.  This will obviously give the competition some time to hone their own products and perhaps release something that will not only compete well with Tegra 4i in its price range, but exceed it in most ways.  I am not entirely certain of this, but it is a potential danger.  The potential is low though, as the design cycles for complex and feature packed cell phones are longer than 6 to 7 months.  While NVIDIA has had some success in the SOC market, they have not had a true homerun yet.  Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 had their fair share of design wins, but did not ship in numbers that came anywhere approaching Qualcomm or Samsung.  Perhaps Tegra 4i will be that breakthrough part for NVIDIA?  Hard to say, but when we consider how aggressive this company is, how deep their developer relations, and how feature packed these products seem to be, then I think that NVIDIA will continue to gain traction and marketshare in the SOC market.

Source: NVIDIA

I can Haswell overclock?

Subject: Processors | January 25, 2013 - 06:11 PM |
Tagged: haswell, Intel, overclocking, speculation, BCLK

hardCOREware is engaging in a bit of informed speculation on how overclocking the upcoming Haswell chips will be accomplished.  Now that Intel has relaxed the draconian lock down of frequencies and multipliers that they enforced for a few generations of chips, overclockers are once again getting excited about their new chips.  They talk about the departure of the Front Side Bus and the four frequencies which overclockers have been using in modern generations and then share their research on why the inclusion of a GPU on the CPU might just make overclockers very happy.

BIOS_02T.jpg

"This is an overclocking preview of Intel’s upcoming Haswell platform. We have noticed that they have made an architectural change that may be a great benefit to overclockers. Check out our thoughts on the potential return of BCLK overclocking!"

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Source: hardCOREware

PlayStation 4 (PS4) Orbis Hardware Specifications - AMD APU or Discrete?

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | January 23, 2013 - 02:42 PM |
Tagged: southern islands, sony, ps4, playstation 4, orbis, Kaveri, bulldozer, APU, amd

Earlier today a report from Kotaku.com posted some details about the upcoming PlayStation console, code named Orbis and sometimes just called the PS4.  Kotaku author Luke Plunkett got the information from a 90 page PDF that details the development kit so the information is likely pretty accurate if incomplete.  It discusses a new controller and a completely new accounts system but I was mostly interested in the hardware details given.

We'll begin with the specs. And before we go any further, know that these are current specs for a PS4 development kit, not the final retail console itself. So while the general gist of the things you see here may be similar to what makes it into the actual commercial hardware, there's every chance some—if not all of it—changes, if only slightly.

This is key to keep in mind because here are the specs listed on the report:

  • 8GB of system memory
  • 2.2GB of graphics memory
  • 4 module (8 core) AMD Bulldozer CPU
  • AMD "R10xx" based GPU
  • 4x USB 3.0 ports and 2x Ethernet connections
  • Blu-ray drive
  • 160GB HDD
  • HDMI and optical audio output

We are essentially talking about an AMD FX-series processor with a Southern Islands based discrete card and I am nearly 100% sure that this will not match the configuration of the shipping system.  Think about it - would a console developer really want to have a processor that can draw more than 100 watts inside its box in addition to a discrete GPU?  I doubt it. 

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Instead, let's go with the idea that this developer kit is simply meant to emulate some final specifications.  More than likely we are looking at an APU solution that combines Bulldozer or Steamroller cores along with GCN-based GPU SIMD arrays.  The most likely candidate is Kaveri, a 28nm based product that meets both of those requirements.  Josh recently discussed the future with Kaveri in a post during CES, worth checking out.  AMD has told us several times that Kaveri should be able to hit the 1.0 TFLOPs level of performance and if we compare to the current discrete GPUs would enable graphics performance similar to that of an under-clocked Radeon HD 7770.

There is some room for doubt though - Kaveri isn't supposed to be out until "late Q4" though its possible that the PS4 will be the first customer.  It is also possible that AMD is making a specific discrete GPU for implementation on the PS4 based on the GCN architecture that would be faster than the graphics performance expected on the Kaveri APU. 

kaveri.JPG

When speaking with our own Josh Walrath on this rumor, he tended to think that Sony and AMD would not use an APU but would rather combine a separate CPU and GPU on a single substrate, allowing for better yields than a combined APU part.  In order to make up for the slower memory controller interface (on substrate is not as fast as on-die) AMD might again utilize backside cache, just like the one used on the Xbox 360 today.  With process technology improvements its not unthinkable to see that jump to 30 or 40MB of cache.

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With the debate of a 2013 or 2014 release still up in the air, there is plenty of time for this to change still but we will likely know for sure after our next trip to Taipei.

Source: Kotaku

CES 2013: Haswell Ultrabooks Have New Requirements

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2013 - 05:05 PM |
Tagged: CES, ces 2013, haswell, Intel

Oh certification, how I loathe thee.

At the Intel CES 2013 keynote, Intel announced a few new requirements for OEMs to manufacture Haswell-based ultrabooks. Intel clearly wants to push OEMs to utilize several of their more cherished features and as such they will not allow products to be released without these features.

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Threat detected.

A fourth-generation ultrabook must contain the following features:

  • Touch interaction support
  • Intel WiDi support
  • Installed Antivirus and Anti-Malware, Intel-owned McAfee will have an announcement soon.

These three certification requirements lead to two major points of contention with me: non-Windows 8 operating systems as well as Intel potentially strong-arming McAfee into your machine. When Intel requires touch support for Haswell-based ultrabooks, they basically declare that Windows 7 and Linux will not be around.

That requirement could seem minor depending on what Intel McAfee will soon announce after Intel’s announcement that Antivirus and Anti-Malware will be required on ultrabooks. Windows 8 already comes with Microsoft Security Essentials pre-installed and as such Intel might strong-arm vendors into using McAfee. It would not be a stretch to speculate that McAfee will have some deep attachment to the Haswell architecture. Unfortunately we will need to wait until Intel makes their announcement.

Intel also claims that ultrabooks will have touch-based products in the $599 price points very soon.

Coverage of CES 2013 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

CES 2013: Vizio Creates Windows 8 Tablet with AMD CPU

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2013 - 05:13 PM |
Tagged: CES, ces 2013, vizio, amd

Why not open up CES-proper discussion with a tablet announcement?

AMD has begun their push into the tablet space with Vizio being one of their first OEM partners to announce products at CES. Due to AMD being one of the select few to still maintain a proper x86 license, they are about your only option outside of Intel for a true Windows 8 tablet. Vizio took them up on that position.

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The Vizio Tablet PC, seemingly a play on their original Android-based Vizio tablet with an added declaration that “I am a PC”, will run standard Windows 8 certified as Microsoft Signature. No bloatware will be included which should help users experience the performance that 60-day antivirus trials and auto-launched demo notifications absorb.

On the technical side, the Tablet PC is loaded with 2 GB of RAM, an 11.6” full 1080p display, and a 1.0 GHz AMD Z60 processor. 64 GB of solid state storage is included although Windows 8 has been known to stake claims to a large portion of that. Readers of our site would probably have a primary computing device although this might be worth watching as a secondary device. You do not have a whole lot of other options for Flash support or access to non-default browsers.

Coverage of CES 2013 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: engadget

Intel Leaks Valleyview and Bay Trail Slides

Subject: Processors | January 6, 2013 - 05:09 PM |
Tagged: valleyview, low power, Intel, Bay Trail, atom

When the original Intel Atom hit the scene, it was a reasonably large success for Intel with the massive explosion of netbooks.  The original design was very simplistic, but was fairly power efficient.  The weak link of the original Atom was the 945 chipset graphics that were not only underpowered, but were based on a relatively power hungry desktop chipset.  The eventual competition from AMD featured a next generation low power core based on the Bobcat architecture which featured a modern graphics core that was more than adequate for most scenarios.

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Intel never stood still, but their advancement of the low power cores was slow as compared to the massive leaps and bounds we saw from the original Core architecture in 2006 on the desktop and server markets.  Typically these products lagged the desktop products in terms of process nodes, but they continued to advance these cores little by little.

Leap forward a few years and we saw the eventual demise of the netbook and the massive uptake of mobile computing.  Mobile computing was primarily comprised of tablets and smartphones.  Intel was late to the party as compared to products from Qualcomm, Samsung, and NVIDIA.  A fire was lit under the Atom group at Intel, as the competition had far surpassed the company in ultra-mobile parts.

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Happily for those of us paying attention, the 3D Center Forum has released some very interesting slides about the 22 nm generation of Atom products and the platforms they will be integrated into.  Valleyview is the SoC while Bay Trail is the platform.

Valleyview is based on Intel’s 22 nm process and will be a next generation Atom processor with a multitude of new features.  It will be a SoC as it will no longer require a traditional southbridge.  It will have improved graphics as compared to the most recent Atom processors.  While the SoC will feature USB 3.0, it will not embrace SATA-6G or PCI-E 3.0.  The CPU will go up to quad core units that will be 50% to 100% faster than current parts.  These new chips will also introduce a boost functionality (think desktop Turbo Boost) that will run the frequency equal to or greater than 2.7 GHz.

Power is of course the primary concern, and these products will be offered from 3 watts and below (Bay Trail T) and up to 12 watts (Bay Trail D)  These products will not be competing with the Haswell products which are rumored to get around 10 watts at the very lowest.

While Intel has been slow to react to the mobile push, they are starting to get that ball rolling.  It will be very interesting to see if they can move fast enough to outrun and outwit the ARM based competition, not to mention AMD’s latest 28 nm products that will be released in the first half of 2013.