At Computex 2019, MediaTek has announced that its upcoming 5G SoC (system-on-chip, or processor) integrates a 5G modem to deliver 5G in a more cost-efficient way than what’s on the market today, namely Qualcomm’s X55 modem, usually coupled with its Snapdragon 855 processor.
As of late, Qualcomm is powering nearly all 5G designs available and announced, including the Galaxy S10 5G and the LG V50 5G, to name two phones we’ve held in our hands.
5G Support, but
It’s been a year since we first heard of the Mediatek Helio M70 modem and to tilt the economics in its favor, Mediatek’s integrated Helio M70 5G modem does not support mmWave, the fastest and currently least deployed form of 5G communications. Instead, it is compatible with “sub-6” 5G frequencies which are overwhelming often used with the first generation 5G commercial networks.
In the USA though, Verizon and AT&T have focused their 2019 efforts on mmWave, but the coverage is minimal, and the first real-world tests had to be done at particular locations. mmWave reached ~1Gbps in these real-world conditions (tested with the Qcom X55 modem) but is very sensitive to distance and line-of-sight of the target device. mmWave also cannot penetrate walls, unlike sub-6.
Qualcomm’s X55 modem supports 4G LTE, sub-6 and mmWave 5G protocols in the same unit. Another difference with Qualcomm’s offering is the speed. In theory, Mediatek’s 5G download speed is 4.2 Gbps, which is much faster than today’s best 4G LTE, but substantially lower than Qualcomm’s peak 7.0 Gbps 5G sub-6 speed.
Sprint expects its sub-6 5G network to be ~5X faster than its 4G LTE network and expects ~500Mbps if you’re standing in a good coverage area, and has demonstrated speeds of ~100Mbps in a moving vehicle.
If Mediatek’s numbers are correct, its customers should get a performance that is meaningfully better than today’s best 4G LTE.
Next-generation CPU and GPU Designs and Semiconductor Process
Modem aside, the MediaTek 5G SoC is built using a 7nm semiconductor process (transistor size), which makes it more power-efficient than chip using larger transistor size. The size can also lead to a price advantage because it makes the chip smaller in surface area, and since 7nm is in production since last year, the manufacturing cost is (probably) much friendlier going forward.
The MediaTek 5G SoC CPU cores use the Cortex A77 ARM CPU Core design which aims at providing a ~20% overall performance over the previous generation (A76), also designed for a 7nm manufacturing.
This A77 design is faster because it is better at predicting and executing code branches. ARM has also changed the size and bandwidth wherever inefficiencies were identified, and that contributes to avoiding stalls and latency whenever possible.
The graphics processor (GPU) of this new MediaTek SoC is a Mali G77, a new design launched at Computex. This new GPU uses a brand new architecture called Valhall (aka Valhöll, aka Valhalla) and should offer ~40% greater performance than the G76 design. The Valhall architecture is more straightforward, scales better, and seems more orthogonal and elegant.
The texturing throughput of the GPU has dramatically improved as well. As games move to higher-resolution texture, the ability to deal with large texture has become essential to avoid stalling the rendering while waiting for texture data.
The new architecture is touted to be ~60% faster than previous generations for AI workloads, which are mostly camera-related today, but as more and more apps use AI, the important of machine-learning hardware support should not be under-estimated.
Finally, the energy-efficiency is~30% higher than G-76, which means that for the same 60FPS game, you spend that much less GPU power to run it. With Samsung (Exynos) and Huawei (Kirin) being two significant customers for previous generations, we can expect to see this technology in their next SoC offerings.