Comparing Thermal Throttling And Sustained Performance In Mediatek And Qualcomm Devices. – In 2019, SOCs from Qualcomm and Apple dominated premium phones and tablets in the mobile landscape. HiSilicon’s Kirin faced problems due to political pressure on Huawei. MediaTek maintained a respectable reputation as a mid-range and entry-level chip supplier.
With two years to go, we’re starting to get a glimpse of what will drive the devices in 2022, and that market is MUCH more exciting.
Comparing Thermal Throttling And Sustained Performance In Mediatek And Qualcomm Devices.
MediaTek took the premium competitor by storm. We hear more from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon team. Apple’s A15 is highly refined compared to the A14. Google launched its first custom chip with the Pixel 6.
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The legacy landscape has exploded, and several companies are rumored to be planning their own solutions over the next few years.
I’ll use MediaTek’s announcement as a guide to engage in not-too-wild speculation, but I’ll point to some trends that could cause concern for the next generation of power phones. I think it’s also fair to highlight some of the work Apple did in moving from the A14 SOC in the iPhone 12 to the A15 in the iPhone 13.
We all have some lessons to learn, and hopefully these producers don’t have to learn every lesson the hard way.
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A SOC is literally just that, an entire computer system packaged on a piece of silicon. It’s more nerdy to talk about, but these component pools have become MUCH more complex than just “CPU”. We improve the designs more and more. For several years now, these mobile parts have provided power on laptops to portable electronics.
Apple’s latest laptops are now powered by larger versions of this SOC style, which further increases the performance benefits and also maintains tighter control over software and hardware optimization.
As these parts become more powerful, we still have to contend with traditional computer problems like heat. With screen, battery and camera components, the phone is a tightly packed little gadget. It is always a challenge to provide more power and get the heat OUT of the phone.
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A more powerful SOC can perform tasks faster and play games more smoothly, but more powerful components can generate more heat and put more strain on the battery.
There are manufacturing considerations that help make SOC more efficient, and over time we HOPE to see more powerful chips that ALSO draw less power and produce less heat. It is a delicate balancing act. Chipmakers invest billions in production equipment, and these mobile chips are designed years in advance.
Consumer trends can change over time, and the delivery of these data products must be in line with other technology industries. The new SOC must include new radios for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile data. The new SOC must include hardware to control increasingly complex camera hardware. The new SOC must enhance automated data functions such as AI and machine learning services. Faster screens. Faster charging standards. Better security. Better GPS. There are a LOT of moving parts.
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From year to year, there is no guarantee that the new SOC will be better than the older SOC in terms of every feature included in the phone. We often have to balance improvement in one area with compromise elsewhere.
2015 saw the launch of a number of Snapdragon 808 and 810 powered phones. These chips were significantly more powerful than the previous generation Snapdragon SOC from 2014.
Eight cores, but four cores were “LARGE” and four cores were “small”. “BIG” cores were more powerful and hungrier. “Small” cores helped handle less intensive tasks and had to reign in power moves.
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Many 2015 phones had uneven performance and were noticeably warmer to the touch than 2014 phones. Due to the higher thermal profile, several phones experienced manufacturing issues resulting in component failures.
Qualcomm significantly changed the production and design of the next Snapdragon 820 and significantly improved these thermal issues. Since 2016, Qualcomm has made several advances. From the Snapdragon 820, we saw about five SOC generations with performance improvements within reasonable power consumption and heat.
This was a notable release as this SOC featured a new type of CPU core and a more powerful GPU. The 888, supposed to be a big step up in performance, scored well in the benchmark. We saw “HIGHEST PRICES” when testing apps. Unfortunately, we also received reports of phones getting hot to the touch and inconsistent sustained performance.
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By the end of 2021, the devices that have performed more consistently for real-world applications and gaming have included SOME type of throttling or management to “turn down” the power of that SOC.
These mobile pieces are exciting sprinters in fast-paced action, but can struggle with longer tasks. Gaming performance looks fantastic for short interactions, but the full GPU count of this SOC can drain batteries quickly. The GPU can also run so hot that the phone probably won’t be able to sustain a faster frame rate after a short period of time.
So far we’ve focused on Qualcomm because they’ve been the top SOC vendors in the Android space, but Apple also recently had to deal with similar issues with its A-series phone SOCs.
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Moving from the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 12, we saw the same boast of better processing power and better gaming performance.
In synthetic tests and short gaming sessions, this proved to be true. The iPhone 12 was more powerful than the iPhone 11.
However, with more sustained tasks and longer gaming sessions, the iPhone 12 can often heat up and reduce performance to a lower sustained rate than the iPhone 11.
Conclusion & End Remarks
Play for a few minutes, the iPhone 12 was the champion. Play a little longer, an older iPhone can sometimes outperform a newer iPhone.
Moving on to the iPhone 13, Apple’s claims were much more modest. The latest Apple SOC was claimed to be faster, but the improvements were not as dramatic. The initial reaction was cynical, with many believing that Apple was “sliding” or having a bad year.
Although not significantly more powerful, it seems to achieve a better balance between performance and power. For longer gaming sessions, we still see significant lag, but the iPhone 13 doesn’t slip below previous generations of iPhones like the iPhone 12.
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MediaTek shows a SOC design influenced by the bleeding edge of ARM hardware. This is a similar component layout in the Snapdragon 888 and Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 898 SOCs.
A “CPU” consists of three different types of CPU cores. We get a new “BIGEST” CPU core called Cortex-X2. We get refined “LARGE” CPU cores and more energy efficient “LITTLE” CPU cores for less intensive tasks.
However, the most troubling comparison for me doesn’t come from MediaTek. I am most concerned about this ARM marketing image showing the power difference between the Cortex-X1 core compared to the Cortex-X2.
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This is the “BIGEST” CPU core. It is the fastest and most powerful, but also the most power-intensive.
We cannot use this chart to compare Dimensity 9000 and Snapdragon 888 orange to orange. Mobile computing is too complex to compare easily.
ARM, the company that designs these processor cores, claims a 16% performance improvement, as well as higher peak power. I’m always excited for better performance, but I worry if that performance drains the batteries faster and generates even more heat. I put a LOT of concern on this one-line chart, but it plays into the trend we’ve seen in this market over the past two years.
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The ARM chart describes a modest improvement in performance with the same power consumption AND it shows the same performance with less power consumption. This is very good.
Cortex-X2’s top performance line should worry us after a year of phones that can’t sustain peak performance for long before overheating.
I would be concerned that the Cortex-X2 would heat up faster than the Cortex-X1 at peak performance. If so, the phone will have to push down faster, and it’s even less likely that we’ll see tangible improvements in real-world apps and games.
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There is a lot of noise around these simplistic numerical scores that help us judge performance. However, these scores rarely predict which phones will perform better in real-world tasks. Most synthetic benchmarks are a series of SMALL performance tests that reach peak performance, then recover for a short period of time before entering a new activity.
While this is some NERDY data to digest, it’s not hard to conceptualize this idea for family and friends. Ask people around you in a simple conversation if they want their current phone to be 15% more powerful for gaming OR if they want 15% better battery life compared to how they use their phone now. I think we already know how MOST people will react to this question.
Unfortunately the last two years
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