Core Wars: Helio X20 puts 10 cores in your smartphone or tablet, but do you need it?

Taiwan-based chipmaker MediaTek has increased its Helio system-on-chip (SoC) lineup with a new deca-core Helio X20 aimed at smartphones and tablets. But do consumers need it?

Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek has increased its Helio system-on-chip (SoC) lineup with a new deca-core Helio X20 aimed at smartphones and tablets.

The Helio X20 takes 10 CPU cores - the first for the industry - and packs them into a single die. These cores, in turn, are connected by MediaTek's first custom interconnect, the MediaTek Coherent System Interconnect (MCSI). The chip has three clusters of cores, one consisting of a pair of Cortex-A72s clocked at 2.5GHz, four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 2GHz, and a third cluster of four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz.

The reason for cramming these cores into the Helio X20 is not for performance, but saving power. According to MediaTek, by taking these cores and combining them into three clusters, the chip can achieve a 30 percent power saving by turning cluster on and off.

"By leading with mobile CPU architecture and multimedia innovation, MediaTek continues to push the envelope of power efficiency and peak performance," said Jeffrey Ju, Senior Vice President of MediaTek. "We are excited to see device manufacturers raise the bar - in camera, display, audio and other consumer features. MediaTek has been adding innovative multimedia features to our platforms since the very beginning, enhancing the overall computing and multimedia experience as part of our strategy to put leading technology into the hands of everyone."

As you'd expect, this hardware will need software support, and at present it is unclear whether support will come from the existing ARM Global Task Scheduler already found in Android or whether MediaTek will need to do some custom work.

But is this needed or is it just a new variation on the old "Core Wars" that we saw on the desktop a decade ago?

The bottom line is that this comes down to one thing - can the Helio X20 deliver in the real world the power efficiencies promised? If it can (and the price point isn't insane), then I think we're going to see a lot more of this happening. But this is a pretty big "if" given that power and thermal dissipation constraints found in smartphones and tablets are exceedingly tight. And given that products featuring the Helio X20 aren't going to appear until early 2016, we've got a fair wait to find out whether this is a real innovation or just marketing fluff.

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