ARM-MediaTek-TSMC combo could threaten Intel’s market by year end

New benchmark scores for MediaTek’s implementation of ARM Holdings’ latest core design indicate that MediaTek and ARM are likely to have potential chips suitable for notebooks, servers and even desktop PCs by the end of this year or early next year. These chips would be potentially more powerful than those found in the new Apple MacBook Air and Intel NUCs.


The reason for such a doubling of power compared to existing phone and tablet chips is two-fold – the Cortex A72 technology from ARM Holdings, and new 16 nm FinFet technology from TSMC – the manufacturing partner of MediaTek.


Perhaps to this end, MediaTek may even be skipping the Cortex A57 core technology and focusing on Cortex A72. The A72 may power its high-end Helios P chipsets scheduled for the second half of this year.

Back in October 2013, MediaTek had announced it was licensing Cortex A53 and A57 64-bit technology from ARM. However, since then, it has never made a processor based on the latter design.

In fact, its latest high-end octa-core MT6595 chips, found inside models such as HTC E9, was widely expected to be based on Cortex A57 cores.

However, as announced by HTC yesterday, the MT6595 processor contains only eight Cortex A53 cores, and no Cortex A57. Benchmark scores of HTC E9 and E9+ (<1,000 for single core on Geekbench) also seem to indicate that they contain only A53 cores. Cortex A57 cores would score about 1300.


At the same time, even as there is no news of any MediaTek chip with A57 cores, benchmark results for MediaTek's MT8173 processor, which pairs two Cortex A53 cores with two Cortex A72 cores, have started popping up all over the Internet.

The tablet-oriented MT8173, which MediaTek has officially confirmed as comprising two A72 cores and two A53s, scores about 1,500 on single-core Geekbench results – the highest score ever for a mobile processor, including those from Intel.

In fact, a single core score of 1,500 implies a multi-core score of about 7,500 for an octa-core processor built on A72 technology.

The picture becomes even more interesting when you keep in mind that the MT8173 was made with 28 nm technology. Given that TSMC's 16 nm technology will be available to MediaTek by the middle of this year, the higher efficiency associated with the 16 nm FinFet technology could be expected to give a 25% boost to performance, resulting in single-core performance scores of about 1850, and octa-core scores in the range of 9,000 points.

In comparison, Intel's desktop oriented Core i3 4160 — possibly its largest selling i3 variant — scores about 7,800 points.

One should keep in mind that Samsung’s Exynos 7420, built on four A57 cores, scores above 1,520 points, while the Snapdragon MSM8994, built using the same core design, scores only 1340. The Snapdragon is built on the older 20 nm HKMG process, while the Exynos is built on the more efficient 14 nm process from Samsung.

Of course, an octa-core Cortex A72 cannot be used in any phone — even if it's built on the high-efficiency 16 nm FinFet technology, due to excessive heat generation.

However, an octa-core Cortex A72 + Cortex A53 based on 16 nm FinFet is definitely within the realm of possibility for tablets and phones before the end of this year. Such a chip would score about 6,000-6,500 points, given than an octa-core A53-based, 28 nm chip from MediaTek already scores in the range of 4,500-5,000 in multi-core mode.

That is more power than the Intel Core i5-5250U processor, found inside the new Macbook Air and Intel NUCs, which scores about 5,800 on Geekbench.

In other words, by end of this year or early next, MediaTek chips are likely to have enough power to build regular, light use PCs and laptops around. And if the company chooses to build an octa-core A72 based processor for the server market, the chip would have more power than most laptops in use right now.

One thing is clear – early 2016 is going to see Intel's near monopoly of the mainstream laptop market under threat from ARM-based-chip vendors if the latest benchmark results are any indication.
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