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Battling SoCs: QCOM vs NVDA vs Samsung

Battling SoCs: QCOM vs NVDA vs Samsung
by Daniel Nenni on 01-13-2013 at 7:00 pm

 If I had to describe CES in one word it would be exhausting. There were 3,000+ vendors, 150,000+ people, lines for everything, but 100% pure excitement. Even my beautiful wife was intrigued by the technology that shapes our lives. The smart toaster was of great interest to her since she says I time my toast with the smoke alarm. The new SoCs were of the most interest to me since that is what I do for a living. Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Samsung all launched new SoCs but the Samsung marketing machine trumped them all. It really was quite a show, even Bill Clinton showed up for it.

Before the opening keynotes Nvidia formally announced the Tegra 4 which is TSMC 28nm versus the Tegra 3 at 40nm. With four Cortex A15 CPU cores and 72 GPU cores the Tegra 4 is the fastest SoC on the market (my opinion). It will also be the most expensive (my opinion). Tegra 4 uses the ARM Big/Little architecture so there is a fifth ARM A7 core for power management duties. We don’t count the little cores so this is a quad core SoC.

At an opening keynote Qualcomm introduced its 2013 line of Snapdragon SoCs, the Krait 300 and Krait 400, which are faster and capable of handling UHD. The architecture improvements and Qualcomm’s use of LPDDR3 RAM have reportedly upped the performance by 40%. The Snapdragon’s quad-core’s maximum clock rate has been given a boost from 1.7 GHz to 1.9 GHz.

At the Samsung keynote the Exynos 5 Octo SoC was announced touting the first 8 processor core SoC. Again using the ARM Big/Little Architecture, Samsung attaches one ARM A7 Little to each ARM A15 Big thus the 8 processor claim, the amazing and distorting Samsung marketing machine at its finest.

I got my hands on a tablet with the Tegra 4 inside but for the life of me I can’t remember who made it. Anyway, it was the most impressive tablet I saw at the show. It was VERY fast and had the MOST impressive graphics. No info on cost or battery life though but man was it fast. It kills the iPad 3 absolutely.

The biggest difference between the current batch of SoCs is that Qualcomm and Apple do not use off the shelf ARM cores. Qualcomm and Apple both license the ARM architecture and roll their own processor cores. Qualcomm has always done this for Snapdragon but Apple A6 is the first custom processor for Apple, which is in the iPhone 5.

Why do custom cores you ask? To optimize performance, cost, and battery life of course. Apple is the best example since they control the entire device including the operating system. I have an iPhone 4s and an iPhone 5. The custom SoC in the iPhone 5 is significantly faster than the iPhone 4s and the battery lasts much longer. Samsung will follow Apple and on this as well since they also control the whole device, believe it.

I do not know for an absolute fact but I would bet more than a lunch that both the Qualcomm and Apple custom SoCs also use a Big/Little strategy. In fact, I suspect that both companies use multiple Littles to squeeze the most battery life out of the devices they inhabit so the Samsung Octo announcement really is an inside joke. News flash: We only count the big processing cores, not the little power management cores or the graphics cores otherwise we would have to come up with names with 100+ cores in them and that would be annoying.

And why did Samsung rent Bill Clinton you ask? To put a famous American face on their made in Korea brand that is why. Great fit if you ask me, Samsung and an impeached American President!

You can read more about the ARM Big/Little HERE.

Join the CES 2013 discussion HERE and qualify to win an iPad Mini!


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