MediaTek is the leader in the low-end of the chip market, bringing 550 million chipsets to the market last year alone (mostly in non-Android feature phones).
MediaTek now aims to take over the low-end Android market, with powerful, yet inexpensive dual-core 1Ghz Cortex A9 chips (MT6577), for smartphones that cost under $200 (contract-free) and run Android 4.0 or later.
The GPU in MediaTek’s new SoC will also be a pretty powerful one. They say it’s a PowerVR Series 5 GPU, so it’s probably the SGX540 (first shown in the Galaxy S). This graphics chip should be able to power 720p displays and play 1080p video with no problems. The MediaTek SoC will also support dual-band Wi-fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, FM radio, and 8 MP cameras.
It’s a little unfortunate that MediaTek didn’t go with the more powerful Mali 450 GPU, which ARM has just announced for low-end devices (yet it’s as powerful as the Mali 400 in the Galaxy S2), but it’s possible that the GPU wasn’t ready in time for Mediatek to pair it with their CPU. MT6577 should come out in the third quarter of the year, when it’s supposed to start shipping in low-end, yet powerful ICS (or Jelly Bean?) devices.
It seems that we won’t see ICS on $100 smartphones equipped with ARM11 chips, which is a mixed blessing, I think. In a way, it’s bad, because people won’t get ICS-running cheap smartphones anytime soon. But it’s mostly good news, because ARM11 chips are based on a very old, underpowered design, and I’m happy we’re finally transitioning away from it.
For now, MediaTek’s upcoming dual-core Cortex A9 chips should help ICS make the move into the sub-$200 territory, while next year, we’ll probably see sub-$100 Android 4.1/5.0 smartphones powered by the low cost single-core/dual-core Cortex A7 - Mali 450 combo.
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It seems that phones based on this are out already. I recently read about a dual-core phone from Huawei, the “Shine” packing dual cores and a IPS screen for US$280. I wondered how could they make a phone with those specs that cheap. This link quoted the phone as using the MTK6577:
Unfortunately, the GPU remains a PowerVR531 :/ It’s the only thing holding back what will be a great low cost chipset. Of course, it might also be the only thing making it low cost. Can’t wait for what the Mali-450 can do.
And this reminds me: By far the OS driving the SoC arms race is Android. Without Android we would not see such rapid innovation from all the SoC members, since WP7/8 is exclusively Qualcomm and iOS runs Apple SoCs (still, manufactured by Samsung)