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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—64-bit processor architectures will “take over” the mobile space next year, and while quad- and octa-core microprocessor implementations may be technical overkill at the moment, their adoption is inevitable.
That was the word from Mike Demler, longtime industry observer who now serves as a senior analyst for The Linley Group, a semiconductor technology analysis firm. Demler (pictured below in the panorama) was the third of three keynote speakers at MemCon 2014 here at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
In a presentation that reflected both the relentless march of technology and the carefully considered nuances of SoC design, Demler walked the audience through recent mobile-device design history and then into the near future. In that tomorrow, console-class gaming, high-resolution displays, and 4K video on handheld devices will drive the adoption of more and more cores as well as 64-bit architectures.
At the moment, system demands don’t necessarily favor the jump to 64-bit when existing 32-bit architectures can be tweaked and often many-core designs operate with most of the cores “unlit” most of the time, Demler said.
"I don't think I have eight cores in my PC at home,” Demler said. “What would you really do with them? Do you really need eight cores?”
He showed a slide from a Chinese mobile system benchmarking vendor. The slide showed two sets of tests that cycled through the top 10 applications that users have gotten from Google Play to run on Android devices.
In a quad-core configuration, one core is lit up about half the operating time; the second core “maybe a third to half the time and third and fourth cores (are) hardly lit up at all,” Demler said.
“Yes, people are putting more cores on chip but … what are we going to do with them and do we really need them?" he added.
Demler said quad- and octa-core designs aren’t the only paths to pursue as 64-bit architectures ramp up, notably with the ARM v8 processor architecture. But he urged the audience not to “get caught up in the hype in 64-bit. It doesn’t provide necessarily a huge or doubling of performance,” Demler said.
Instead, an alternative is to embrace 32-bit architectures whose features have been “cleaned up” over time and recompile for them. At that point, teams might see a 10-20 percent improvement over their earlier 32-bit implementations, he added.
That said, 64-bit is inevitable and in addition to ARM, companies like Intel and MIPS are gearing up 64-bit processors for the mobile space.
What’s going to drive the escape velocity into these bigger multi-core and 64-bit implementations, Demler said, are graphics and video.
He highlighted NVidia’s Project Denver, a micro architecture that leverages a 64-bit ARM v8 design.
“You've got the equivalent of a PC plug-in card with graphics in a ... smartphone,” he said.
High resolution displays “place demands on memory and storage. We will continue to see designers devote more of the mobile application processors to the graphics than even to the CPUs,” Demler said.
Another key driver is 4K video, which oddly isn’t being sparked by the high-end consumer space since there is little content for stunning 4K flat panel displays.
“Yet in a mobile device, the processors are already rolling out in production that cannot just display 4K but actually record in 4K video,” Demler noted.
Demler, peering into the near future, said single-core designs are being supplanted by multi-core designs. Quad-core implementation will be the average next year, he added.
“The 64-bit architectures are going to take over in the next year,” he said, adding high-performance graphics processing units bringing desktop-like gaming experiences “will become the norm, even in midrange smartphones.”
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