Monday afternoon at the Linley Tech Mobile Conference 2012 CPU manufacturers Qualcomm, Intel, and Ingenic/MIPS talked about their latest application processor that?s shipping.

We learned more about Snapdragon S4, Intel?s low-power processor, MIPS IP licensing and were shown a demo of an unannounced tablet. The speakers were Travis Lanier, Director of CPU Product Management, Qualcomm; Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar, Intel Fellow and Chief Mobile Platform Architect, Intel; Amit Rohatgi, Principal Architect, Mobile, MIPS Technologies.

L to R: Linley Gwennap, Linley Group - Travis Lanier, Qualcomm - Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar, Intel - Amit Rohatgi, MIPS
L to R: Linley Gwennap, Linley Group – Travis Lanier, Qualcomm – Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar, Intel ? Amit Rohatgi, MIPS

Travis Lanier discussed the Snapdragon S4 Pro and the company?s specialty microarchitecure which allowed them to move into the multi-core marketplace. He said their microarchitecure is the "secret sauce" that lets Qualcomm individually control each core in their quad-core SoC. Lanier also discussed the problems with benchmarking mobile devices. He had an interesting slide showing the multiple layers of code separating the hardware from the benchmarking applications. This is why benchmarks often have difference ratings on the same SoC and corresponding platform.

Understanding Mobile Benchmarking
Understanding Mobile Benchmarking

Ticky Thakkar explained about Intel?s Atom "Cedarview" low-power processor and how they are preparing for the Windows 8 launch. Thakkar went over how performance requirement versus users demand for longer battery life are affecting SoC die size. He stressed the importance of Intel?s in-house vertical integration process from design though shipment of the SoC to the ODM/OEM.

Intel Atom Medfield SoC Black diagram
Intel Atom "Penwell" SoC Black diagram (Medfield platform)

Qiang Liu, CEO, Ingenic Semiconductors was scheduled to be another speaker. However, his travel plans did not work out due to a delay of his Visa. Amit Rohatgi from MIPS took his place. Rohatgi explained the background of Ingenic from their licensing of the MIPS IP in 2007 through their December 2011 announcement of the first computer to be shipped using Google?s Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) with world-wide availability.

Ingenic Semiconductors has shipped over 30 million CPUs since 2007. They are a member of the TSMC’s Soft-IP Alliance Program which includes Arteris Inc.; CEVA; Chips&Media; Digital Media Professionals (DMP); Imagination Technologies; Intrinsic-ID; Sonics Inc.; Tensilica; and Vivante Corporation.

Rohatgi explained that "Google has started to take notice of the volume shipments of MIPS-based Android tablets." Last week, Google CEO Larry Page made specific mention that the majority of Android tablets are being sold at the lower end of the price range. Furthermore, Google officially announced the inclusion of MIPS support in the Android development.

Ingenic - MIPS milestones
Ingenic – MIPS milestones

Last month, BSN completed a nearly one month Hands-on Review of the $99 Tablet Ainol NOVO Basic 7?MIPS. Rohatgi said about 1.8 million MIPS-based Android tablets have shipped to date. BSN?s review showed shortcomings with compatibility of about 20 percent of the Android applications. About 85 percent of Android apps run on the Dalvik virtual machine interpreter. However, nearly 80,000 of the half a billion apps in the Android online store run natively, targeting specifically the ARM architecture. There is an option for developers to use Magic Code, however this approach should only be used by experienced Android users.

Rohatgi showed a performance comparison between the ARM Cortex A-8 made in 40/45nm process and the Ingenic JZ4779 SoC, made in 65nm using TSMC’s General Purpose process. To overcome software application developers? problems, Rohatgi explained that Google announced that the Android native developers? kit started by bundling a GNU compiler for MIPS. Google is also expected to bundle full support for the MIPS ABI (application binary interface) in all Android code and libraries in the next few months.

Last week, Reuters had a rumor about MIPS Technology being up for sale, possibly to AMD. MIPS stock shares surged in value on the speculation. Since then, the rumors have slowed down and analyst Nathan Brookwood from Insight 64 said in EETimes on Tuesday: "AMD?s been there and done that," noting that the firm had acquired Alchemy (a MIPS licensee) back in 2002 and sold it to Raza in 2006. "At best," said Brookwood, "buying MIPS would represent nothing but a minor ?distraction? for Intel?s smaller chip rival."

After the first day of the Linley Tech Mobile Conference, no one in the Reception and Exhibit Hall was talking about a possible sale of MIPS. Instead they were talking about tier one OEM Philips? 7-inch tablet sitting in the MIPS booth. The first production run will be sold in China, so we did not have an English translation of the specifications at this time.

Philips 7-inch tablet using Ingenic-MIPS SoC
Philips 7-inch tablet using Ingenic-MIPS SoC

Clearly, the mobile marketplace has some serious competitors. Some major players missing from the Linley Tech Mobile Conference 2012 were Nvidia and TI. Linley Group has four conferences a year on today?s computing topics and they are definitely worth attending.