Will the battle for 5nm chips continue to be compared to “run points”?

Apple, Huawei, Samsung, and Qualcomm have all released their own mobile chips. Smartphones that have been in the 7nm process for two years will soon be turned over in 2021 and enter the 5nm era.

A new round of chip wars has started, but when talking about these highly integrated chips, what we can say is obviously more than just running points.

What is the performance

Compared with greatly increasing CPU/GPU performance, power consumption optimization and efficiency balance are now more important content for chip manufacturers.

This is also related to the development trend of smart phones. Nowadays, a 5,000 yuan and a 2,000 yuan mobile phone are more than enough to handle tasks such as web browsing, WeChat, Weibo, and short videos, and there is no obvious difference in experience.

Even the differences are limited to the numbers in the software.

Is the performance of the phone no longer important? When its average level can meet the needs of most people, chip manufacturers continue to stubbornly pursue a 15-30% annual increase. What is the significance?

Whether it makes sense or not depends on the actual usage scenario.

Let's talk about a practical use case: the mobile game "Original God" that appeared in the second half of this year. Up to now, it is still difficult to play this game with the highest picture quality and 60 frames on the mobile phone. Even the iPhone 12 series equipped with the latest A14 chip will still drop frames in some complex scenes. Happening.

This is also a very unexpected situation. After all, in the past, the two games "Glory of the King" and "Peace Elite", which have been used as reference objects, were not stressful to run on the flagship machine.

But "Original God" also has its particularity. Better picture quality is obviously a bit, but I think the more important reason is that it spans the development background of the three major platforms of PC, host and mobile.

Although the rendering pipelines of different platforms are different, in order to ensure consistency among developers, many 3D graphics technologies and special effects are common. These technologies are nothing to do on the PC or host, but they are completed by the mobile phone. Here comes a new round of performance pressing.

So we can see that even if the mobile version of "Original God" adopts the method of reducing resolution, deleting a lot of modeling, and special effects to ensure the basic smoothness of 30 frames, the final performance is still very poor, and it is easy to appear Overheating phenomenon.

This is due to the optimization of the client itself, but on the other hand, it also proves that the performance of the mobile phone chip still has room for improvement.

In addition, the idea of ​​"one-time development, multi-terminal deployment" adopted by "Yuan Shen" is also a new trend in current application development-all games on Apple Arcade nowadays do this. "The one that naturally also needs to be able to carry some desktop graphics technology.

Application software needs a better experience, which forces hardware upgrades. This is actually a result we are happy to see. In terms of chips, whether it is Huawei Kirin 9000 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 this year, they have also chosen to make greater improvements in GPU performance. I believe that it will also be a powerful push for the future mobile gaming experience.

AI computing power, a new focus

AI, machine learning, and artificial intelligence networks are areas that chip manufacturers like to mention now. Apple A14, Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and Huawei Kirin 9000, both have independent AI chips, and the performance improvement in this part has been extremely impressive in the past two years.

Take Apple’s A14 neural network engine as an example. Its core number has been increased from 8 in the previous generation to 16, and its peak computing power has doubled to 11 TOPS. Snapdragon 888 has reached 26 TOPS in AI computing power, per watt. The performance is up to 3 times higher than the previous generation platform.

This kind of multiplier level improvement is very similar to the big leap in CPU/GPU performance when the smartphone was first born a few years ago. Time has passed. As a new cutting-edge technology, artificial intelligence is now beginning to enjoy this rapid progress.

However, what the extremely high computing power represents and how our mobile phones will change, most users do not understand, and it is difficult for mobile phone manufacturers to give some scene-oriented things. This is a problem that has always existed before.

This year, Apple actually gave a lot of popular cases on the A14. Take the iPhone for example, image synthesis algorithms, automatic album classification, power management systems, and many back-end processing that we don't notice, actually involve machine learning technology.

To be more specific, mobile photography is the part that currently relies heavily on AI, and we also have a stronger perception. For example, Google’s “computational photography”, Apple’s “Deep Fusion” synthesis technology, and Huawei’s use of NPU cores for video rendering are all achieved by the collaborative work of AI chips and ISP image sensors, and they are all very mature. Applications.

From the perspective of human-computer interaction, some applications will use gesture tracking, semantic recognition, etc., and will also rely on the computing power provided by AI chips. Especially in terms of the efficiency of running specific AI algorithms, a dedicated AI core is indeed much more effective than directly calling the CPU and GPU.

5G battery life, it's time to solve

We are pursuing the progress of process technology, and to some extent, we are also achieving a new power consumption balance. 5G, high refresh screen, these two features have become the "standard configuration" of Android flagship phones in the past year, enhancing our mobile phone experience, but don't forget that they are also two big power consumers.

Previously, when we evaluated the iPhone 12 series, we found that with the battery capacity slightly reduced and the X55 baseband plug-in, even if the A14 uses more advanced technology, this part of the process bonus will still be offset by the high power consumption of the 5G network In the end, Apple had to abandon the use of high refresh.

So if you want a high screen refresh, what about 5G? The approach of many Android mobile phone manufacturers is nothing special: bigger batteries, this is still the easiest and most direct way to improve battery life, 4000 mAh is not too much, 4500 mAh is enough.

This year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip allows us to see some good changes. After two generations of Snapdragon Cores, Qualcomm finally chose to encapsulate the latest X60 baseband into the entire Soc, instead of plug-in like the previous 865 and 855.

This is obvious to the improvement of the utilization rate of the internal space of the mobile phone. Relatively speaking, the external baseband does encounter higher cost and higher power consumption, but the most embarrassing thing is to occupy a mobile phone space that could have been saved. Judging from the current situation of smart phones, Qualcomm's external baseband has been a pain point for many mobile phone manufacturers in the past two years.

In addition, the advancement of the X60 baseband's own technology can also reduce battery life and heat generation, so that smart phones can obtain better sustained performance release time.

The wrestling of foundries

In the current chip industry, Apple, Qualcomm, Huawei, and Samsung are only responsible for design. To build them on a large scale, TSMC and Samsung are still the pillars behind them.

According to multiple reports, Qualcomm has handed over the Snapdragon 888 chip to Samsung for production this time, instead of the previous two generations of TSMC. One of the reasons is production capacity. It is reported that most of TSMC's 5nm production lines are currently packaged by Apple's A14 and M1 chips. Qualcomm has invested in Samsung to ensure stable mass production.

However, Samsung's own Exynos chip has also made a lot of moves recently. In November, Samsung announced the latest Exynos 1080 chip with a high profile, which is also based on the 5nm process design. By next year, many domestic mobile phones equipped with Exynos chips will appear and compete with other Qualcomm and MediaTek chip devices.

Of course, Qualcomm's new choice may also have process considerations. After all, even under the same manufacturing process, the transistor density and process under different foundries are still different. Will the Snapdragon 888, handed over to Samsung’s foundry, make next year’s Qualcomm flagship a head-to-head performance against the iPhone 12? Compared with other 5nm chips such as Huawei’s Kirin 9000, what new competitiveness will there be? Answered.

In general, even if the mobile phone chip is a hidden product, it is still the core of driving everything. As for performance, the future is no longer the only important measurement indicator. More and more new technologies are destined to make mobile phone chips. It has become more diversified.

Source of title picture: PCGames

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