System-on-Chips (SoCs) have been gaining market share as form factors shrink while power efficiencies, low-heat emission processors for fanless devices, and multitasking demands rise. The rise in 32- and 64-bit architectures are supporting solutions to meet the functional demands, while the new wave of core processors are providing new solution opportunities focused beyond smartphones.
New generation of processors
Intel's early September release of the new line of Core M processors has been met with great excitement for the portable device market, especially the two-in-one hybrid devices bridging laptops and tablet PCs. As portability and multitasking are demanded for professional as well as personal computing, Intel's latest Core M series running on 14nm process technology is going to provide a serious boost to on-the-go computing. Additionally, the new Intel line up delivers over twice the performance power with a fraction of the power consumption (roughly 4.5 watts) and heat dissipation (doesn't require a cooling fan in the device), all in slimmer and smaller packaging to entice device designers to adopt Intel's solutions for gaming, work, video, etc.
The industry thus far is heralding this series as the leader in cutting-edge processors for mobile and hybrid portable devices with major OEMs (HP, Asus, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba) already lined up to provide their new offerings for the holiday season running on the Core M series. Particularly important is the strategy Intel and the PC OEMs are putting forth, namely that consumers are going to reenergize the otherwise stalled PC industry with this new line up of very powerful and very portable devices thanks to the advantages of Core M processors.
Meanwhile, ARM has diligently been pushing their processors forward as well. ARM's Cortex-M series is focused on providing the processing power needed for the next generation of smart, embedded technology solutions. The ARM series decidedly targets a wider set of end-devices than Intel's Core M series, strategically applicable to IoT, smart metering, human interface devices (note the wide group of possible devices), automotive and industrial control systems, home appliances, medical devices and consumer electronics. That is not an insignificant amount of successful application possibilities. Already "[a]bout 8 billion processors based on Cortex M designs have shipped to date, with 4.6 billion of those shipping in the last year and a half," according to Nandan Nayampally, vice president of marketing for the CPU group at ARM, as cited by PCWorld.
IoT demanding more of chips – smartphones leading
While the phrase "IoT" is being thrown around quite a bit these days, one of the greatest impacts of this new electronics phase is the spread of chips to support the vast array of devices that we would like to connect. That connectivity demands a chip solution, one that is cost-effective, has a small footprint, can handle multitasking and RF signals to send and use data, all to "smarten up" existing devices in our universe.
The latest smartphones and phablets are certainly pushing the envelope to bridge wearable tech, mobile phone solutions, and portable computing into one event center for consumers who will leverage these devices and connectivity for both personal and work events. The new smartphones are boasting serious computing power in their SoC cores which serve as both CPU and GPU. In the GPU race, it is still an ongoing battle between Qualcomm and Nvidia who both are pushing the GPU envelope for rendering super high-definition graphics capable of supporting 4K displays. These new solutions add to the competition among devices, pushing tablets closer to PCs when it comes to viewing content and gaming.
Finally, we see among smartphone OEMs new feature offerings to consumers who are tired of poor call quality or dropped calls. Aggregated carrier solutions are being adopted to enhance calls by switching automatically between cellular and Voice over IP (VoIP); solutions that demand additional embedded solutions to handle these complex tasks seamlessly in the background of a call. Combine these connectivity demands with security-rich NFC radio chips to handle new mobile payment options, there is a significant amount of data transfer and integrated component solutions going into the leading-edge devices.
These are all exciting developments truly pushing the design envelope for solutions not just for handheld consumer devices, but processor solutions that intentionally look to serve a wider array of markets. This wider net serves to also support the interoperability of devices that will be necessary to continue to stretch IoT and smart life into daily life – a push that will directly and decidedly grow the strengthening semiconductor and electronics industry through the next quarter, year and beyond.