Like AMD in the PC world, MediaTek is the fastest growing semiconductor company in the smartphone chip business. The Taiwanese, who also knows how to work with partners – Intel, AMD or Nvidia, also has aspirations of solo power in the world of telephony and openly attacks Qualcomm with its brand new all-in-one chip: the Dimensity 9000.

Read also: ARM announces Armv9, the architecture at the heart of the processors of the next decade

If MediaTek has already launched many chips under this name, this version 9000 is of a whole new dimension. Because, it is the first SoC (System on a Chip) in history to introduce the brand new ARMv9 architecture.
After ten years of chips under ARMv8, which notably brought 64 bit, the English ARM launched this year a whole new architecture with all new bricks (CPU, GPU, ISP, NPU, etc.) on which is largely based the Dimensity 9000.

A chip which is also very innovative in terms of manufacturing process since it is, again, the first mass chip in the world in 4 nm. Relying on the vacuum created by the American ban on HiSilicon, a semiconductor subsidiary of Huawei, as well as by the agreement that Qualcomm has made with Samsung for the production of its future flagships, MediaTek took the opportunity to inaugurate the process most advanced production machine of the moment from the planet’s best founder, TSMC.

Compatriot of MediaTek, the Taiwanese dominates the industry with his 5 nm process already at work at the service of Apple (A15, M1), or Qualcomm. The 4 nm process, called N4, offers good gains compared to 5 nm.
Improvement of the latter process, it hardly requires adaptation of plans, saves 6% space, limits energy consumption a little and increases performance (again a little).

Read also: TSMC promises 2nm at the end of 2022, consolidates its dominance with more than 30-year-old technology

And it makes it possible to achieve all this while even making some savings, since if its rate of return is the same as that of 5 nm, the more intense use of lithography in EUV reduces the number of masks, and therefore the number of steps. for the manufacture. An improved process compared to the conventional 5 nm, but less expensive. This fits perfectly with MediaTek’s approach.

Now let’s take a closer look at the bricks of this new processor.

ARMv9, Cortex-X2 … and a monstrous ISP

The Dimensity 9000 is, to our knowledge, the first chip to inaugurate ARMv9, the decennial review of the ARM architecture. Under the spotlight, ARMv9 notably brings security improvements for the next “300 billion” of connected objects.
But for what interests us in the field of smartphones, the new generation of ISA continues its hunt for energy efficiency and performance.
In this area, it is above all calculations linked to AI, such as machine learning, that offer the best promise. If ARMv9 is the general architecture of the chip, ARM develops plans of “bricks” such as the CPU, GPU, ISP, etc. Plans that MediaTek often doesn’t even bother to change.

Read also: Samsung’s future mobile chip, equipped with an AMD GPU, will manage ray tracing

Regarding the processor part, the Dimensity 9000 integrates three classes of cores: one “super” Cortex-X2 3.05 GHz core, three large Cortex-A710, and four small Cortex-A510. Hearts configured almost to the maximum of ARM’s design, proof that MediaTek is here to send heavy loads.

On the graphics side, there is no house chip like at Qualcomm (Adreno) or the future Samsung chips (AMD), but ARM’s GPU, a Mali-G710, whose intrinsic performance we can’t wait to see.

The most impressive part of MediaTek’s chip is its image processor, or ISP. Called Imagiq790, it is, on paper, the most monstrous we have ever seen.
Designed for HDR processing of photos and video on 18 bit (the standard is 10-12 bit in smartphones and up to 14 bit in cameras), the Imagiq790 can handle a staggering volume of data: up to ‘at 9 gigapixels! Yes, this ISP, which has three channels (pipelines), which can work simultaneously, processes up to 9 billion pixels per second, which is three times more than Qualcomm’s best ISP, the Spectra 580. Such an engine can drive three 32 Mpix sensors each shooting an 8K video stream at 60 images per second, and he still has some under the pedal …

Read also: Snapdragon 888: why its Spectra 580 image processor is a revolution

What is interesting here is that the best ISPs so far were from Qualcomm and Apple, and MediaTek was never up to the task. Here the numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt, since the attractive numbers are of no interest without drivers and a durable and quality software monitoring – two other traditional weaknesses of the Taiwanese chips. But if MediaTek manages to deliver on that side, Qualcomm will have real competition in front of it in high-end SoCs.

Increased “AI” performance …

If the announced gains in CPU performance can be counted, at best, in a few tens of percent, the implementation of the ARMv9 bricks by MediaTek offers IA calculations an improvement of an entirely different magnitude. The fifth generation of neural chip (NPU for everyone, but called APU by the Taiwanese) from MediaTek implemented in the Dimensity 9000 would be 400% more efficient and 400% more energy efficient than the previous generation, the 4e.

What to catch up with the competition? This is what MediaTek promises by promising + 16% more AI performance compared to Google’s Tensor chip integrated into the Pixel 6, yet renowned as the most powerful of the moment in terms of AI.
From real-time image processing filters to voice recognition and video encoding, there are more and more applications that rely on neural chips. Even if the performance comparisons remain quite difficult compared to the world of CPU and GPU, less opaque and having more testing tools.

8K in decoding, as in encoding

Another area in which the Dimensity 9000 promises to push the limits: video. The chip physically encodes and decodes 8K streams in H264 as well as in H265. It is therefore impossible for this to lag and energy consumption should be much lower than software decoding on the CPU / GPU pair.
Another world first, support for decoding (no encoding) of 8K AV1 streams, the free and open codec pushed by the giants of the Web (Google, Netflix, Facebook), compared to the industry’s proprietary and paid codecs. classic video.

Coupled with an 18-bit scene sampling (depending on the nature of the sensors integrated into the camera modules), this 8K encoding promises potential very high-performance terminals in video – oversampling, both in color depth and image definition, makes it possible to produce higher quality, Full HD or 4K streams. We now have to wait to see the hardware parts that the manufacturers will select. And more critical still: software implementations, weak point of Android… and MediaTek.

Integrated 5G modem, and horde of refinements

If MediaTek signs contracts related to 5G (Intel) or Wi-Fi (AMD), it is because even though Qualcomm is the leader, the Taiwanese remains a heavyweight in networks.
As a flagship chip, the Dimensity 9000 is, in this area, armed to the end of the transistors. The 5G modem is obviously integrated into the SoC, a modem at the forefront of standards, such as support for 3GPP in its version 16 (the latest 5G standard).
Added to this is Wi-Fi 6E, or Bluetooth 5.3. No support for 5G millimeter wave (mmWave), currently mainly implemented in the United States. MediaTek knows it is cutting itself off from this market but doesn’t care: a chip supporting this very fast standard should arrive next year. And for now, the rest of the world, outside the United States, is enough for him.

Presenting a bullet point is always a difficult exercise because it is so difficult to be exhaustive without being soporific. It should be added that the Dimensity 9000 is the first chip to handle LPDDR5X memory, that 180 Hz displays are supported (and in HDR10 +, please), that the ISP manages sensors up to 320 Mpix (yes, yes), that pushed to its limits, it can record three 4K streams at 270 frames per second, etc.

Also to discover in video:

Also to discover in video:

What is to be remembered is that MediaTek, which today claims to be the world number 1 seller of smartphone chips in volume, wants to pass the second and also intends to make value with this Dimensity 9000. A chip full of promises, of which it will be necessary to wait to see the first implementations to know whether, yes or not, MediaTek has caught up, or even exceeded Qualcomm. Easier to promise than to do, but the Taiwanese’s recent progress is very impressive.

Source : Anandtech

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