semiconductor chip

There was an awful lot going on at MWC this year, when it comes to chipset technology. Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, and a lot of the other big players all had something to show off. So, just in case you missed anything I’ve put together a little run down off all the juicy processor based news.

Tegra 4

We’ve heard a lot about the Tegra 4 over the past few months, and the benchmarks shown off this week have really caught the attention of the hardware junkies. Nvidia was also keen to show off the battery saving benefits of its companion core design, along side some more performance tests of its new Cortex A15 based architecture.

tegra 4

Nvidia has definitely managed to prove to us that the Tegra 4 is a step up performance wise. The Cortex A15 chip is the fastest mobile chip we’ve seen, and its improved 72 core GPU is also outperforming the competition.

Along with benchmarks, Nvidia has also been showing off some Tegra specific graphical features in upcoming games titles. Whilst it’s debatable whether or not this type of hardware segregation it good for Android gaming as a whole, it certainly puts Nvidia ahead of the pack.

Nvidia has previously struggled to find manufactures willing to put its Tegra chipsets into their devices, but last week we received news that ZTE would be the first company to use the new Tegra chip. Okay, so ZTE may not be a household name in Western markets, but it’s a very large international manufacturer and should see the Tegra 4 actually make it in to more handsets than any of Nvidia’s previous offerings, which should certainly help Nvidia’s bottom line.

Unfortunately no-one had any Tegra 4 powered devices to show off at MWC, but we could well see the actual details of a few devices crop up in the following months. It’s going to be a slow start to the year for the Tegra 4, but it looks like a solid chip for tablets, where high performance is more useful and a lack of LTE support isn’t such a deal breaker.

Tegra 4i

When the Tegra 4i was first announced it took me a little by surprise, but actually the chip has grown on me recently and seems like Nvidia’s best offering to date for several reasons.

Firstly the chip has built in LTE, which is a must to compete with the likes of Qualcomm’s S4 and next generation chips. Secondly, it beefs up the Tegra 3 design a bit, so devices using this hardware won’t be too sluggish. Whilst it’s not a totally high-end chip like the Tegra 4, the revamped quad-core Cortex A9 design and pumped up 60 core GPU will make it a match for current high-end smartphones, whilst keeping the handset roughly as energy efficient as the Tegra 3.

As we saw in the reference handset which was at MWC, a future Tegra 4i smartphone could feature an impressive 13 megapixel camera, and support a detailed 1080p 5-inch display, of course with LTE support. Now that’s a much more interesting prospect for smartphone manufacturers than the Tegra 3 or Tegra 4.

Overall Nvidia’s MWC was solid; it showed off its technical prowess, whilst better outlining exactly what it intends to do with its new line of chips. Sadly, there weren’t any new Nvidia based handsets to show us what other manufactures have in mind for the SoC, but based on the picture Nvidia has build up this past week, I’m expecting that the Tegra 4 will appear in a few tablets later in 2013, and that Tegra 4i is certainly going to give smartphone designers something to think about.

Whether or not Nvidia can catch up with Samsung or Qualcomm remains to be seen, but it’s a better start to the year than they had with Tegra 3.

Clover Trail+

Intel continues to improve its Atom range of processors for tablets and smartphones, and at MWC, it officially unveiled its Clover Trail+ line-up. Not to be confused with the Clover Trail chip which appeared in several tablets last year, although the architecture is virtually the same.

Intel Clover Trail+ Z2580

Although we already had most of the technical specs before MWC, Intel unveiled three new Atom based chips, the Z2580, Z2560 and Z2520, which span a range of clock speeds and graphics chips to suit a range of handset requirements. The top of the line Z2580 comes with a 2.0Ghz dual core processor and an impressive 533Mhz SGX544 dual core GPU, giving it substantially more graphical grunt than the last generation.

The lower end Z2520 comes with a 1.2Ghz dual core, and a clocked down SGX544MP2 running at 300Mhz. The lower clock speeds should really save on battery life though, making it idea for cheaper handsets.

Interestingly, Intel is sticking with the dual-core CPU design, but keeps hyperthreading enabled to improve multi-tasking performance. This is no doubt in an effort to save on energy consumption over more common quad-core design, and certainly makes Intel’s chip an interesting choice for handset manufactures, as the Atom CPU outperforms pretty much every other chip on the market. However, it might not fare so well against the next-generation Cortex A15 chips, like Nvidia’s Tegra 4 or the Exynos 5. If you want to the full tech specs you should check out our full coverage of the MWC unveiling.

Unlike Nvidia though, Intel actually has a handset to show off its latest processor technology with, the Levono K900. The 5.5-inch, 1080P display beast packs in a massive 2GB RAM as well as the speedy Clover Trail+ Z2580. The K900 is shaping up to be one impressive handset, just check out this quick demo.

Intel was at MWC to prove that it’s a serious contender in the high-end smartphone market, and Clover Trail+ certainly does that.

Exynos 5 Octa demo

I’ve had my eyes on the big.LITTLE architecture for a while, and ARM was on hand at MWC to finally show off this impressive sounding technology in practice. We finally had our first look at how big.LITTLE handles every day tasks after months speculating how well the new architecture would perform.

What strikes me the most about this technology is the speed at which the cores can be switched around, keeping the battery draining A15s on for as little as possible unless totally necessary. It’s impressive, and could well be the most energy efficient design on offer this year.

Whilst we haven’t seen and benchmarks for the chip yet, we can probably expect something similar to Nvidia’s Tegra 4, as least in terms of CPU power, as both chips use four Cortex A15s for peak performance. But just like the Tegra 4, there are still no handsets confirmed to be using this new chip. But with the Galaxy S4 rumoured to be using am Exynos 5 Octa, at least in the European version, we might not be waiting too long until we can get our hands on this impressive looking chip.

Qualcomm & MediaTek not interested in Octo-core

Although other processor manufacturers were a little more subdued at this year’s MWC, we did get a snapshot about how these other companies see the future of the handheld market. Both Qualcomm and MediaTek are working on their own next generation chips, Qualcomm continuing to improve its Krait line-up of CPUs and MediaTek working on a low power quad-core chip, but neither of the two tech companies are planning on an octo-core chip in the near future.

In fact they both dismissed it, citing a lack of consumer demand for such products. I’m sure many hardware enthusiasts won’t agree there, but for the general consumer Qualcomm and MediaTek are both probably right. Battery life and acceptable performance levels are all the general consumer really cares about.

Qualcomm were also keen to point out that integrating technologies like LTE is much more important than simply one upping your competitors in a few benchmarks tests, and to some extent Qualcomm certainly has a point. Although you can’t help but think they may be bitter about Nvidia stealing the performance crown.

No Snapdragon 800, yet

Many of us were hoping to finally catch a glimpse of Qualcomm’s next top of the line chip, the Snapdragon 800. Sadly the ZTE Grand Memo which was mistakenly reported to contain the high end chip turned out to only be using a Snapdragon 600. Not that it’s a bad chip by any means, but we’ve already heard a fair bit about the 600.


Qualcomm’s MWC was a little quieter than I’d hoped for. There wasn’t an unveiling of any new technologies, and we’d already had a fair share of information about the Snapdragon 600 thanks to the launch of the HTC One.

The Snapdragon 600 still beats everything else on the market right now, but since Nvidia came to the show and blew away the competition with it’s Tegra 4, I was hoping for a bit more of a showdown. Qualcomm did want to remind us that the Snapdragon 800 would be the best chip on the market when it finally arrives, but, until we see some solid information, it’s all just hype.

However, Qualcomm managed to make a more subtle impact on MWC as pretty much every new top of the line handset on display was using a new Snapdragon 600.


So who had the most impressive showing at MWC this year? To be honest I’m having a hard time deciding; Nvidia definitely surprised me with its benchmarks, Intel’s Clover Trail+ looks impressive, but I’m more sold on the Exynos 5 Octa for the best new architecture.

The LG Optimus G is just one of the new high end smartphones powered by a Snapdragon 600

The LG Optimus G is just one of the new high end smartphones powered by a Snapdragon 600

I suppose what really counts is whether manufactures are actually going to use the processors, and, in that regard, Qualcomm stole the show. Although many of the devices we saw are still using the older Snapdragon S4 Pro and Eyxnos 4 chips, there were quite a few high-end devices on display which are packing the new Qualcomm 600.

The Optimus G Pro, HTC One, ZTE Grand Memo, and Asus PadFone Infinity are all boasting the new quad-core Snapdragon 600, and the Clover Trail+ also made an appearance in the Lenovo Ideaphone K900. Sadly, no manufacturer was ready to unveil products using the new Exynos 5 or Tegra 4, so we’ll just have to wait until later in the year to see which devices end up utilizing these impressive looking technologies.

What were your hardware highlights from MWC, and which technologies are you most looking forward to getting your hands on?

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