The end of “small core” in the mobile phone industry is exactly a progress in the history of chips

Although there is a myth about rubbing chips by hand, Apple's first computer, the Apple I, was indeed made by hand.

When Apple's first computer was made, Jobs was 20 years old and Wozniak was 25. The MOS 6502 chip had only more than 3,000 transistors.

▲ MOS 6502 chip

MOS 6502 and its variants are the chips used in the three computers of Apple I, Apple II and Apple III. Their cheapness and "sufficiency" made the Apple II a huge success, but also made the Apple III fall to the bottom.

"Enough" is often a relative concept that deceives oneself and others. For example, a mid-range mobile phone chip in the past two years was enough to allow a large mobile game like "Honor of Kings" to run smoothly at a high-definition frame rate of 90fps, but it was far from enough. Let "Genshin Impact" run at 60fps in medium quality.

▲ Motorola 68000 chip

In 1984, the first-generation Macintosh computer was released. Jobs, who had struggled with chip selection, decisively changed the core and adopted the Motorola 68000 chip. 68000 means that this chip has 68,000 transistors inside.

On the basis of the soaring performance of the chip, the graphical interface and mouse operation of the original Macintosh computer could be realized.

In the 1990s, Intel launched the Pentium series of processors that brought it to its peak. Here, far-reaching technologies such as out-of-order execution and superscalar architecture emerged.

At this time, Apple chose to form an alliance with Motorola and IBM to launch computers equipped with PowerPC chips. This is why Apple notebooks at that time were called PowerBooks.

▲ IBM Power4 server chip (left) and Intel processor

In addition to representing power and performance, the word Power is actually the abbreviation of Performance Optimization With Enhanced RISC (a CPU architecture). At that time, IBM's server chips were named after Power, and the chips installed in Apple computers were of the same type of architecture. Hence the name PowerPC chip.

In 2001, IBM released the world's first dual-core processor chip Power4, officially opening the multi-core era of processors.

Then PowerPC chips gradually became unavailable, and Apple reluctantly turned to its arch-rival Intel. By establishing its own business, Apple completely cut off its ties with Intel with its M-series chips.

The history of the rise and fall of Apple Computer is also a "history of core failure". If it falls behind, it will disappear. It doesn't talk about emotions, it's all about technology.

Dimensity 9300, ready to end the history of “small core”

The present is just another history repeating itself.

Not long ago, Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen3 flagship chip was released. Its architecture changed from the previous generation’s 1 super large core (1 Cortex X3 core) + 4 large cores (2 Cortex A715 cores + 2 A710 cores) + 3 small cores (3 Cortex A510 cores) The architecture becomes 1 super large core (1 Cortex X4 core) + 5 large cores (5 Cortex A720 cores) + 2 small cores (2 Cortex A520 cores).

There are two main architectural changes between the two generations of chips. One is the reduction of small cores and the increase of large cores. The second is the unification of the large core architecture and the cancellation of small and large cores.

As a direct competitor of Snapdragon 8 Gen3, the just-released MediaTek Dimensity 9300 is even more radical, directly canceling the small core (A520 core) and instead using 4 super large cores (4 Cortex X4 cores) + 4 large cores Full big-core design (4 Cortex A720 cores).

As mentioned before, "enough" is often a relative concept that deceives oneself and others.

Too many statements that judge the future based on the present have been ultimately falsified. The most famous one is that in 1943, IBM Chairman Watson said that "the total demand for computers in the world may only be 5."

And Bill Gates said in 1981 that "640KB of memory should be enough for anyone."

Demand and performance are twins. Upstream chip manufacturers, downstream mobile phone manufacturers, game and software developers, and users all play the same role in this twin cycle of demand and performance.

The meticulous chip architecture is inextricably linked to the huge mobile phone market with shipments measured in billions.

The battle for market share, performance and even energy efficiency ratio sometimes have a subtle relationship. For example, in the Q4 quarter every year when Apple is alone in defeat, it is because iPhones equipped with new A-series chips are shipped, leading Qualcomm and MediaTek generationally. One generation, and then the flagship chips of these two companies will be released and shipped by the end of the year.

This staggered peak situation has changed significantly in the past two years.

At the end of October and early November, Qualcomm and MediaTek had already released and shipped flagship chips in order to compete head-on with Apple in Q4. Why?

One thing that can be speculated is that the dual advantages of performance and energy efficiency of A-series chips have been gradually reduced, and now there is a winner and loser, and no one is afraid of the other.

In addition, the PC market next door has proven that manufacturers that squeeze out toothpaste will be severely punished.

A seemingly contradictory situation has formed. On the one hand, users' replacement cycles have become longer and the motivation to replace their devices has weakened. On the other hand, the upstream and downstream industries are afraid to squeeze out toothpaste in the hope that the product can stimulate consumers.

The most obvious example is the vivo X100 series, which debuted the Dimensity 9300. The standard version already has the top performance combination of Dimensity 9300 chip + UFS4.0 storage + LPDDR5T memory, as well as "wide angle + main camera + telephoto" "Flagship imaging configuration. In the past, such a configuration should only be available on the Pro model.

After "Genshin Impact", running console-level open world games on mobile phones has turned from a luxury dream to a reality. More and more game developers are mercilessly squeezing the performance, energy efficiency and heat dissipation limits of mobile phones. At the same time, live broadcasts The rise of mobile phone manufacturers, as well as mobile phone manufacturers' exploration of game modes and multi-tasking, and the increase of memory also mean that a mobile phone may bear more than one heavy load task at the same time.

Furthermore, people who don’t care about technology trends should have noticed the coming of the AIGC trend. It is also vivo, and its OriginOS 4 has been equipped with the "Blue Heart Little V" intelligent assistant based on the large language model, providing ever-changing AI services. .

Performance is the intersection of all the above trends.

Small cores are the "Achilles' heel" of the keyword performance.

Even small cores may be one of the reasons that limits energy efficiency.

Looking back at history, there are too many "Achilles heels" about chips. It may be the number of transistors, the number of cores, the process technology, or deeper reasons.

The all-big-core architecture that puts an end to “small cores” is stronger and more power-saving.

Stronger performance while saving more power are considered irreconcilable contradictions in conventional wisdom, but in the semiconductor and consumer electronics industries, they are the pursuit from beginning to end.

When Apple announced in 2005 that it would switch to Intel, many Apple fans were extremely angry and criticized Apple's move to surrender to the enemy.

But when they discovered that the 2006 MacBook equipped with Intel chips not only had better performance, but also had longer battery life, these people's hands were not idle, either applauding or paying.

Stronger and more power-saving, this is also the answer given by Dimensity 9300.

Interestingly, part of this answer is written in history.

In 1995, Intel launched the Pentium Pro processor, which debuted a technology called "out-of-order execution". This technology also appeared at MediaTek's communication meeting.

When the chip processes instructions, there are two ways. Facing the surging computing instructions, it processes and executes them one by one, washing, cutting, boiling, and cooking step by step like a recipe. This is "sequential execution ( in-of-order execution)”.

But "out-of-order execution" is not the case. It doesn't pay attention to first-come, first-served. The instruction is processed when the hand is empty. Even if the instruction comes later, it is like boiling water. It takes a long time and the water is not used at the beginning. When cooking, you can put the boiling water in front of the vegetables. After the vegetables are cut, the water will boil, which shortens the entire cooking time.

Small cores under the ARM architecture, taking the recent two generations of Cortex A510 and Cortex A520 as examples, except that the main frequency is lower than that of super large cores and large cores, they can only perform "sequential execution", which seems to save power. In fact, the performance is low and the execution efficiency is low.

This is similar to the concept of modern business management: an entrepreneur chooses between hiring 10 capable employees with a salary of 1 million, or hiring 10 mediocre employees with a salary of 800,000. The latter intuitively saves money, but the performance and profit contribution are often far away. It is not as good as the former, which seems to save money but is actually a loss.

At this point, we can understand why Qualcomm will reduce the number of small cores on Snapdragon 8 Gen3, and MediaTek simply cancels the Cortex A520 small core on Dimensity 9300.

In fact, it is the difference between progressive reform and revolutionary change.

The final result is that the Dimensity 9300, which uses a full-core architecture, ranks first in Antutu's overall performance and also ranks first in multi-core performance in GeekBench 6.

All eight cores support out-of-order execution, which greatly improves execution efficiency. As the saying goes, "work quickly and rest for a long time", thus achieving both high performance and low power consumption.

Compared with the previous generation Dimensity 9200 that uses a traditional large and small core architecture, the Dimensity 9300 has achieved reduced power consumption in various scenarios, especially when the Wi-Fi hotspot is turned on, the power consumption can even be reduced by 30%.

Take reloading a game and opening a WeChat video at the same time as an example. It seems like two apps are running at the same time. In fact, there are many processing threads running behind the scenes, and these multiple threads will occupy processor resources.

For example, the main thread ensures the overall process of the game, the rendering thread is responsible for graphics rendering and forming the picture, and the physics thread is responsible for processing the physical simulation in the game, such as object collision and movement, etc. In addition, the audio network may also occupy threads.

Although WeChat video calls do not put as much pressure on the phone as reloading games, there will still be main threads, video threads, audio threads, etc.

When so many threads need to be processed, processors with many small cores will "continue to cut and sort out the chaos", throwing the pressure on large and super large cores, resulting in situations where all cores are occupied, and even super large cores are doing small things. , then the power consumption will naturally be high.

But if it is a full-core core, it will be able to handle multi-threading with ease, allocate it on demand, and leave one or two cores free.

This is another reason why the full-core architecture has strong performance and saves power.

History will not retreat, and "nuclear war" will never end

In the old days, Wang Xietang and his wife flew into the homes of ordinary people. More than 20 years ago, IBM's dual-core processor Power4 was born to cope with the super-heavy load demand of servers. Now it integrates 8 large cores and 22.7 billion transistors Dimensity 9300 Can be hidden in a mobile phone weighing no more than 200 grams.

The multi-core concept first appeared on server processors and flourished in the big LITTLE architecture, which is mainly used in smartphones. But now PC-side processors are even more radical, with many 12-core, 24-core or even more core processors appearing.

The battle for the core of the processor, the so-called "nuclear war", has never stopped, and it has never been a local war.

Although the performance architectures are very different, the concept of multi-core is not static. The earlier "glue four cores" or "one core is in trouble, nine cores are watching" are also detours or stage limitations in the history of "nuclear war".

The history of Xiaohe is also from more to less, from half of the country at the beginning, to a corner, and then to withdraw from the stage.

The idea of ​​Dimensity 9300 is similar to that of Apple's A-series chips. In recent years, 2+4 is the usual architecture in Apple's A-series chips, that is, 2 performance cores and 4 energy efficiency cores. For a long time, Apple's A-series chips The single-core performance of this series chip is far ahead, and the multi-core performance is also among the best. The reason is that the performance core is exaggeratedly large, larger than the super core of ordinary chips, and the performance of the energy-efficiency core is not bad, not inferior to the large core of other chips, so it can be in the When the number of cores is small, the single core is invincible and the multi-core is not weak.

The withdrawal of small cores from the stage of history is exactly the progress of the industry.

▲ Dr. Xu Jingquan, Senior Deputy General Manager and General Manager of Wireless Communications Division of MediaTek

Dr. Xu Jingquan, Senior Deputy General Manager of MediaTek and General Manager of Wireless Communications Division, said:

Dimensity 9300 is MediaTek’s most powerful flagship mobile chip to date, bringing amazing computing power breakthroughs to flagship smartphones through our groundbreaking all-large-core architecture design. The unique full-core CPU combined with the new generation APU, GPU, ISP and MediaTek's unique cutting-edge technology can not only significantly improve terminal performance and energy efficiency, but also bring consumers an excellent device-side generated AI experience.

The public has always believed that MediaTek's processor market share is high because it has established a firm foothold in the mid- to low-end and has been playing the role of a pursuer in high-end mobile phones. With the Dimensity 9300 generation, MediaTek's determination and courage in technological innovation have won the return.

Whether it is the excellent performance and power consumption of the full large-core architecture, or the seventh-generation APU's ability to run large end-side models with more than 33 billion parameters, it is a milestone product for MediaTek and a worthy development in the mobile phone industry and even the history of chips. A chip that is remembered.

Just as many technologies of Dimensity 9300 can find clues from history, now Dimensity 9300 can also be a clue representing the historical trend of chips.

The "full big core" architecture is this clue technology.

In the plastic greenhouse of fate, every cabbage that has been sprayed with too many pesticides once had a dream of becoming a pollution-free organic vegetable.

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