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MediaTek Tries 10-Core Chip in Latest Bid to Crack High-End Phone Market

The 10-core Helio X20, due later this year, promises more efficient use of power with no compromise in performance.


Chip company MediaTek is hoping a 10-core processor will give it the boost it needs to break into higher tiers of the phone market.

With its new Helio X20 chip due at year’s end, the company is arranging the 10 cores into three groupings, with dual 2.5GHz ARM A72 cores for the most demanding tasks along with two quad-core groupings for less demanding tasks.

For a while now, semiconductor design firm ARM has been pushing the notion of one group of cores for performance tasks and a second, more power-sipping group for when less oomph is needed. However, MediaTek appears to be the first to go with three arrays of cores — an approach that MediaTek says can save up to 30 percent off a standard implementation of ARM’s “big.little” approach.

“They run more power efficiently without losing any performance,” said Mohit Bhushan, the company’s head of U.S. marketing. He likens it to having a car with three driving gears, rather than two.

MediaTek has grabbed a significant chunk of the low-end phone business, but has struggled to compete against Qualcomm at the high end of the business.

With the Helio X20, MediaTek says it is a leader in performance and power efficiency. The chip also packs support for two main cameras, high-resolution 2K displays and an always-on microcontroller to listen for voice input and handle music playback without having to wake any of the main processing cores.

“We are certainly moving away from the whole image of being a low-cost provider,” Bhushan said.

Bhushan acknowledged Qualcomm still has an edge in LTE modem technology, but he said the gap is narrowing.

The lag in LTE performance, in particular, has hampered MediaTek’s efforts to crack the U.S. market in any significant way. The company has managed to ship at T-Mobile with the $149 Pop Astro LTE phone from Alcatel OneTouch. However, a lack of support for high-end features has kept the company from being a serious contender for devices sold through AT&T and Verizon. With the new chips, Bhushan said he believes MediaTek has a good chance to crack another top carrier by the middle of next year.

“We are now relevant across the board for all U.S. operators,” Bhushan said.

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