Based on materials from Android Authority
Smartphone processors are currently undergoing rapid development. High-end smartphones have long offered performance far exceeding the minimum required for comfortable surfing the net, checking email or chatting on social networks. This minimum has been overcome even in the devices of the middle price category.
So if we are talking about early announcements of chipsets and devices that will appear in 2020, we should not expect a wow effect from an increase in performance, as it was before. We are approaching a point of diminishing returns. The chipsets will be manufactured using a slightly improved 7nm + process technology, which means less energy efficiency gains compared to the previous generation. We'll have to wait for the mass adoption of 5 nm.
But this does not mean that there will be a lull in the chipset market in 2020. Let's take a look at a few trends that could make the next year in the mobile platform very interesting.
Mobile graphics still have room for improvement
If you look at the benchmarks of all the recently introduced mobile platforms, you will notice one thing in common – they all have a lot of opportunities to improve the performance of the graphics subsystem. This is true both for budget chipsets, hopelessly lagging behind the flagships, and for top-end platforms, which may well get more powerful graphics processors.
The development of the gaming smartphone market and the success of the Nintendo Switch console in the mobile market show that the demand for gaming devices is on the rise. Qualcomm has even released improved gaming versions of some of its chipsets, such as the Snapdragon 730G. But in reality, platforms need to allocate more physical space for the graphics subsystem, as well as use more energy efficient cores to ensure an acceptable level of battery consumption.
We've already seen that Qualcomm managed to achieve a 20% performance boost from the Adreno 630 GPU to the Adreno 640 GPU in the Snapdragon 855 platform and a whopping 3.5x performance jump in the Snapdragon 8xc with its large Adreno 690. Speaking of the big graphics subsystem, take a look to allocate space on the platform. It is clearly seen that the GPU does not account for even a quarter of the total chip area.
For comparison, in the NVIDIA Tegra line, platforms are released with a lot of space for graphics. The newest Tegra Xavier, targeting the machine learning market, dedicates one third of the total area to GPUs. Of course, this chipset is not power efficient enough for smartphones and lacks many of the features that are required for such use. And the Snapdragon 8xc is also too big and powerful for today's smartphones. But in the future, the combination of more efficient 5nm printing, larger batteries and a more efficient core architecture will allow more space in the chipset for the GPU, which will provide more performance.
Finally, Samsung and AMD signed an agreement this year to enable future generations of mobile platforms to use the RDNA architecture. The deal belongs to the microarchitecture of the generation after Navi, so it shouldn't be expected in Exynos chipsets until 2021 or 2022. But the trend itself shows that mobile chipset manufacturers are interested in the broadest range of opportunities available on the market in order to improve their competitiveness or achieve greater economic benefits.
More specialized processors
As already mentioned, the trend in the mobile chipset market is the allocation of space on the platform for components for new heterogeneous computing in order to increase performance without sacrificing energy efficiency. Qualcomm's Hexagon DSP takes up noticeable space, as do the neural processors inside the Exynos and Kirin chipsets.
We can see this trend in the above images, with less area on the platform reserved for CPU and GPU in the Exynos 9820 compared to the 9810. This is partly due to the introduction of a larger neural processor, but also processors for processing the camera image, components for hardware video encoding / decoding and 4G modems. All of these components are fighting for precious space in the name of improving energy efficiency for the most common smartphone tasks.
Next-generation chipsets will almost certainly continue down this path. More and more chipset space will likely be used for the growth of machine learning capabilities. Chipmakers are increasingly adopting in-house machine learning as they better identify the most common use cases, leading to a broader range of capabilities offered by 2020 flagship phones.
Next year, there will also be more powerful GPUs capable of handling 4K slow motion video and 100MP shots, as well as improved networking components for high-speed Wi-Fi 6 and 5G modems. Simply put, mobile chipsets have gone far beyond simple CPU / GPU designs and are becoming more and more sophisticated.
Integrated 4G / 5G modems
With the development of networks 5G around the world, it would be very strange if the next generation flagship chipsets did not come with integrated 4G / 5G multi-mode modems. After all, every major chip designer already has a separate modem 5G. These are Qualcomm Snapdragon X55, Samsung Exynos 5100 and Huawei Balong 5G 01 or 5000. Work is also underway to develop next generation integrated modems for smartphones in 2020.
The next generation flagship chips 5G will certainly hit the market, although cheaper 4G-only models may appear for some regions. More interesting is whether we will see integrated 5G – modems on mid-range chipsets already in 2020. Nokia plans to release a low-cost 5G phone and it will be interesting to see which chipset the company chooses.
Alternatively, mid-range smartphones can simply combine cost-effective chipsets with external modems 5G in their respective markets. MediaTek M70 5G and Exynos 980 look promising for cheaper 5G phones. Hopefully the Samsung Galaxy A90 5G is just the first example 5G of phones without the typical flagship price tag.
Larger processor cores
We haven't talked about processor cores so far, in part because the processor's performance is already more than adequate. But this does not mean that interesting changes will not occur.
The current generation chipsets have introduced new processor core configurations. The 4 + 4 big.LITTLE scheme will go away, and it will be replaced by one or two huge cores in the company of two or three large, only slightly smaller cores, as well as four conventional energy efficient cores. This will happen due to the same competition for the area on the platform, as well as due to the increase in the number of powerful processor cores.
You just have to compare the size of Samsung's giant M4 core to the Cortex-A75 to see why Samsung chose the 2 + 2 + 4 layout. The core of the latest ARM Cortex-A77 processor is 17 percent larger than the A76 core, while Samsung may have a next generation core. more. Likewise Apple continues to equip its chipset with large, powerful cores. Larger cores help boost smartphone performance to lower-end notebooks and play a key role in enhancing gaming potential. However, these large cores are not always equal, as we saw on the Snapdragon 855 versus the Exynos 9820, and we may face a wide variation in processor performance in the coming years.
Likewise, we've seen that shrinking to 7nm has improved the layout and power efficiency of flagship chipsets, and it will soon start to benefit mid-range chipsets as well. However, as smartphones strive to achieve the performance of laptops, chip designers will need to pay particular attention to the layout, performance, and power consumption aspects of their processor designs. It also remains a question if we will see a difference between phone and hybrid laptop chipsets based on ARM chipsets in the next year.
Plus, smartphones don't need four super-powerful cores, especially since battery life is a major concern. One or two kernels for heavy work, supported by mid to low power kernels for other tasks, seem like a smart choice. The 2 + 2 + 4 processor cores for this generation of phones are likely to last until 2020. Although we can see a 4 + 4 layout in A77 counterparts designed for laptops and devices that require high peak performance and are not so limited by battery capacity.
Conclusion. 2020 chipsets in a nutshell
The chipset announcements scheduled for the end of this year and those coming in 2020 have a few things in common. The flagship chips will be manufactured using 7nm or 7nm + FinFET technology, offering only marginal improvements in energy efficiency over the previous move away from 10nm. Smartphones will outperform previous CPU and GPU performance metrics, while moving into the mainstream 5G and machine learning capabilities.
However, the high-end chipset market is set to increase diversity. Differences between custom processors and graphics, proprietary machine learning processors, unique chipsets 5G and a host of other features will grow, further increasing the difference between Exynos, Kirin and Snapdragon chipsets. Although it won't necessarily be a performance change that consumers can actually see. Mid-range chipsets are likely to evolve in the same variety. What remains to be seen is how expensive chipset developers will be able to provide 5G to mid-range buyers.