Linley Newsletter: July 25, 2019

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Linley Newsletter

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Issue #662

July 25, 2019


Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill

Contributors: Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler, Bob Wheeler


In This Issue:

- Qualcomm Upgrades Low-End Phones

- CXL Enters Coherent-Accelerator War


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Qualcomm Upgrades Low-End Phones

By Tom R. Halfhill

Premium smartphones costing $1,000 or more attract the lust and glory, but low-cost phones for emerging markets are selling faster. The majority of smartphones sold this year will retail for less than $200. To deliver more features at even lower prices -- $75 to $125 -- Qualcomm is upgrading its 2xx-series chipset. For the first time, the company's entry-level processors will have 64-bit CPUs, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and dual image signal processors (ISPs) -- plus support for an HD+ display, full-HD video capture, a 13-megapixel camera (or dual 8MP cameras), and dual SIM cards.

The new Qualcomm 215 platform supersedes the four-year-old Snapdragon 212. (The company now drops the "Snapdragon" brand from its entry-level tier.) The foundation of both chipsets is an application processor with an integrated cellular modem. We expect the 215 to begin volume production this quarter, followed by the first phones within three months. Competitors have been shipping entry-level 64-bit processors for a year or more, so the 215 helps the company catch up in this price tier.

The new processor has four Arm Cortex-A53 CPUs operating at 1.3GHz, boosting performance by 50% over the 32-bit Cortex-A5 and Cortex-A7 CPUs in the Snapdragon 212. Long a staple of the midrange Snapdragon 4xx-series, the A53 brings 64-bit horsepower to the 2xx-series for the first time.

Twin ISPs allow a phone to mount one 13MP rear camera or two 8MP cameras. Previously, the 2xx-series enabled only one 8MP rear camera. To complement the higher resolution, the 215 brings additional new features to this line: video capture at 1,080x720 pixels and 30 frames per second and support for displays of up to 1,560x720 pixels. These capabilities give entry-level smartphones a bit more visual appeal, which is a strong selling point of higher-price phones.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12173

CXL Enters Coherent-Accelerator War

By Bob Wheeler

It feels like déjà vu all over again. Servers need an open cache-coherent interconnect between the CPU and accelerators such as GPUs, FPGAs, and ASICs. But after CCIX and OpenCAPI, do customers need a third choice? The answer may be yes because the first two lacked Intel's support. But now, the leading server-processor vendor has announced Compute Express Link (CXL) backed by a consortium that includes four leading cloud-service providers and four leading server OEMs. CXL Specification 1.0 is already available, even though the CXL Consortium has yet to incorporate. Thus, Intel has donated a fully baked specification to the still-forming group.

CXL is built on PCI Express (PCIe) 5.0 physical layer and transport protocol. A server with a CXL-enabled host processor (e.g., a future Intel Xeon) can have dual-mode slots that handle either standard PCIe or CXL add-in cards. At the PCIe Gen5 rate of 32GT/s, a x16 slot yields 64GB/s of full-duplex CXL bandwidth. The standard defines three protocols, with the mandatory I/O protocol simply duplicating PCIe functions. The cache protocol enables a device to cache data from host memory. Finally, the memory protocol allows the host to access memory attached to the device, which is typically an accelerator but could also be a memory controller.

Notably absent from the list of CXL "founding promoters" is any chip vendor besides Intel. In the past, Intel tightly controlled its coherent processor interconnects -- QPI and UPI -- forcing competitors to develop alternatives. AMD is backing CCIX, IBM is backing OpenCAPI, and some accelerator vendors are backing both specifications, but few shipping products implement them. Since important customers are lining up behind CXL, accelerator vendors must now respond. Given the significant differences between the competing interconnects, only an FPGA vendor such as Xilinx can afford to be agnostic. Other chip vendors will have to pick their camp, and Xeon's dominance will create huge pull for CXL.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12174

About Linley Newsletter

Linley Newsletter is a free electronic newsletter that reports and analyzes advances in microprocessors, networking chips, and mobile-communications chips. It is published by The Linley Group. To subscribe, please visit:

http://www.linleygroup.com/newsletters/newsletter_subscribe.php

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors

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