Plenty of Processor Progress at CES

Carl Weinschenk

The nature of the processors that drive computing devices can aptly be compared to the engines in motor vehicles. Different levels of horsepower are necessary for heavy-duty trucks, passenger vehicles, those strange tiny local cars that are showing up and the rest.

Mobile devices have special needs. Like demands on batteries, the needs of processors are particularly vexing in the mobile realm because of their contrary nature: Devices are being called on to do more and for longer periods of time. It is like asking an auto engine to go faster and get better gas mileage. It’s not impossible, but it certainly demands innovation.

Several companies made news on the processor front at CES this week in Las Vegas. The most striking was Samsung, which introduced the Exynos 5 Octa. It offers eight cores, or central processing units. The processor actually is two, four-core, scotch-taped (or perhaps a bit more adeptly) combined.

NewsFactor reports that some of the cores are designated to handle the hard stuff, while the others handle the mundane:

Four are high-performance cores for processing-intensive tasks like gaming, and the other, less-powerful four are intended for lesser tasks, like checking e-mail. Samsung calls this chip design of powerful with less powerful processors its big. Little architecture, and said that the new processor offers twice the performance of the Exynos 4 Quad, its older sibling.

The integration of functions in a processor is a good thing: The more tasks a processor can do, the fewer are needed. This saves space and reduces power draw. Android Authority reports that ST-Ericsson used CES to introduce NovaThor L8580, which the company claims is the fastest mobile processor that has LTE functionality built in.

Here are some of the details:

Unlike other new high-end mobile processors being announced, the NovaThor L8580 isn’t based on the ARM Cortex-A15 architecture. Instead, it contains four Cortex-A9 cores. The four cores can be clocked up to 2.5 GHz while using only .6 V of power, an impressive achievement indeed. The integrated modem will support up to ten LTE/HSPA/TD-SCDMA/GSM bands, so it will be easy for manufacturers to use the processor to support devices globally. The NovaThor L8580 provides connectivity support for GPS, Bluetooth, NFC, and just about any other connectivity option you could think of.

A third company making processor news at CES was Nvidia, which unveiled the Tegra 4. Unlike the NovaThor L8580, the Nvidia product is based on the ARM Cortex-A15. InfoWorld’s story on the announcement said that a foundational question raised at the show is whether mobile devices actually need all the processing power companies are adding. A demonstration aimed at addressing that issue showed that a Tegra-power tablet loaded about twice as fast as a Nexus 10, which an Nvidia executive said is the fastest tablet in the world. The implication of the story is that the marketplace will decide if, indeed, the extra power is important.


The fourth announcement made at CES was by Qualcomm, which unveiled the Snapdragon 800 and 600 processors. The press release focuses mostly on the Snapdragon 800, which promises to deliver as much as 75 percent better performance than the Snapdragon S4 Pro. The Snapdragon 600 will beat the Snapdragon S4 Pro by as much as 40 percent, the release says.

Just as great innovation is driving up gas mileage while maintaining or even increasing performance, the processor sector is working to provide what vendors, service providers and the public want: devices that can go longer between recharges while continuing to support increasingly demanding applications.



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