Marvell ARMADA beats Qualcomm Snapdragon, NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung/Apple Hummingbird in the SoC market [again]

Follow-ups: – Marvell SoCs to win both Microsoft and Nokia for Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms (after the Kinect success) [Feb 1, 2012]
- First real chances for Marvell on the tablet and smartphone fronts [Aug 21 - Sept 25, 2011]

While in the last 2 years Qualcomm Snapdragon, then NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung/Apple Hummingbird (Samsung’s S5PC110 and Apple’s A4 via Intrinsity’s acquisition) got by far the biggest public attention in the System-on-a-Chip (SoC) space it has been Marvell’s ARMADA the real winner all along.

Follow-up: Marvell to capitalize on BRIC market with the Moby tablet [Feb 3, 2011]
Follow-up: Kinoma is now the marvellous software owned by Marvell [Feb 15, 2011]
Follow-up: ASUS, China Mobile and Marvell join hands in the OPhone ecosystem effort for “Blue Ocean” dominance [March 8, 2011]
Follow-up: High expectations on Marvell’s opportunities with China Mobile [May 28, 2011]

Update [Jan 17, 2011]: Report: iPad 2 to use fast graphics chip [Jan 17, 2011] (emphasis is mine)

The iPad 2 will sport powerful, new graphics hardware, along with a higher-resolution display, according to a report.

That graphics chip would be Imagination’s SGX543, according to Apple Insider.

If this rumor is on the money, it is, indeed, a potent graphics technology. Imagination describes the POWERVR SGX543MP as allowing “up to 16 cores…in a high-performance, multiprocessor graphics solution without performance or silicon area compromises.” This graphics tech would be used in conjunction with a dual-core ARM processor, as CNET previously reported.

And Apple’s next-gen iPhone 5 would also feature this chip design–the so-called Apple A5 processor.

“This makes sense,” said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, a chip consulting firm. “The A5 processor must have at least dual Cortex-A9 CPUs (central processing units) to be competitive with [Nvidia's] Tegra 2 and other current smartphone CPUs,” Gwennap said in response to an e-mail query. The Cortex-A9 is a design being used by most major ARM chip suppliers, such as Texas Instruments, Samsung, and Nvidia.

Gwennap continued. “The single-core SGX543 does not have enough graphics performance to keep up with Tegra 2, but a dual-core SGX543 should be within the same range. Even a dual-core SGX543 would fall well behind the graphics performance of Marvell’s new Armada 628, which should be in phones in 2H11,” he said. (Imagination also has the SGX545.)

Addition [later]: Marvell’s tri-core ARM chip has near-PS3-level graphics [Sept 2010], since Sony Playstation 3 GPU has 250 million triangles per second performance vs. ARMADA 628′s 200 MT/s.

Update [Nov 4]: Marvell ARMADA with sun readable and unbreakable Pixel Qi screen, and target [mass] manufacturing cost of $75 on this blog [Nov 4]

Update [Nov 2]: Sehat Sutardja: An Engineering Marvell by IEEE Spectrum [Nov 2, in print Oct 27 but with the title of Marvell Inside] is describing the extremely deep electronic engineering mentality lead with its CEO as the secret recipe for success from the very beginning:

Sehat already had plans for the first product: a better read channel for disk drives. It sounds incredibly specialized and it is, but it’s also one of the drive’s key components. The read channel takes the analog signal coming from the magnetic head as it scans the disk, converts the noisy signal to digital, and puts that information out onto the bus that will take it to the computer. Existing read channels used a bipolar transistor on a complementary-metal-oxide semiconductor substrate (BiCMOS), but Sehat planned to use only CMOS. That way the channels could be manufactured by a chip foundry like the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., so Marvell wouldn’t have to build its own fab. Using CMOS also meant that the device would consume less power. This would, however, present an engineering challenge: Existing CMOS read-channel designs were much slower than BiCMOS.

… they convinced Seagate Technology to take a chance. Ken Burns, an executive at Seagate, told them that the company’s next-generation drive would need a read channel at 240 Mb/s—could Marvell deliver? … They told Burns yes. In less than three months the Marvell team hit the 240-Mb/s mark, and Seagate became Marvell’s first customer. … Today, in terms of units sold, Marvell has about 60 percent of the market for hard drive systems-on-a-chip.

“This little start-up, with one product line, put Texas Instruments out of the read-channel business,” Ohr [an analyst with Gartner] says.

Now we have a new ARMADA SoC processor product from Marvell which is making that lead even more evident:

Marvell Raises Technology Bar Again with World’s First 1.5 GHz Tri-Core Processor Delivering Dual Stream 1080p 3D Video for Smartphones and Tablets [Sept 23] – Game Changer: Ultra-low power, ultra-high performance ARMADA three-core processor first to feature 3D graphics performance with quad unified shaders for 200 million triangles per second delivered on mobile devices

Marvell-ARMADA-628

Marvell ARMADA 628 has indeed an impressive set of features on a single die. To quote from the press release (emphasis is mine):

Key Features

  • World’s first “tri-core” application processor
    - Up to 1.5 GHz for the two main cores and 624 MHz for the third low power core
    - “Heterogeneous  multiprocessing” with “hardware-based Cache Coherence
    - 1 MB System Level 2 Cache
    - Platform leading multimedia capabilities, including support for both WMMX2 and NEON acceleration; and a highly optimized pipelined VFPv3 floating point engine
    - Member of the ARMADA family of processors for easy software porting
  • 1080p dual stream 3D video applications (30 FPS, multi-format)
  • Ultimate 3D graphics performance with quad unified shaders for 200 million triangles per second (MT/s)
  • High performance, integrated image signal processor (ISP)
  • Ability to project images on multiple simultaneous displays
    - 2 LCDs
    - 1 HDMI
    - 1 advanced EPD [like the ones used in E-Ink based e-readers, e.g. Amazon Kindle] controller
  • Peripherals support: USB 3.0 Superspeed Client, MIPI CSI, MIPI DSI, HDMI with integrated PHY, UniPro, Slimbus, SPMI

Addition [later]: Marvell’s tri-core ARM chip has near-PS3-level graphics [Sept 2010], since Sony Playstation 3 GPU has 250 million triangles per second performance vs. ARMADA 628′s 200 MT/s.

We should emphasize two additional facts from the press release:

The new ARMADA 628 tri-core processor incorporates a number of advanced processing and power management features. The tri-core design integrates two high performance symmetric multiprocessing cores and a third core optimized for ultra low-power. The third core is designed to support routine user tasks and acts as a system management processor to monitor and dynamically scale power and performance. The tri-core architecture provides superior performance and lower power over dual-core designs while maintaining industry compatibility and leadership – ensuring a richer, faster and smoother experience than any other ARM-based processor available today.

… In addition to the tri-core CPU, there are six additional processing engines to support stunning 3D graphics, 1080p video encode/decode, ultra high fidelity audio, advanced cryptography, and digital photo data processing – for a total of nine dedicated core functions.

Additional information from Linley Gwennap‘s Marvell Debuts Tricore Architecture [Sept 23] infonugget: The chip is manufactured in 40 nm geometry [note, this is the first such mobile processor from Marvell publicly announced], all three processors use Marvell’s high-end Sheeva PJ4 design, the third CPU uses however a different circuit layout, based on the same synthesizable core, but optimized for lower speed and lower power, the new chip is fully compatible with ARM’s Neon instruction set (unlike the previous versions of the PJ4), the 3D graphics performance [200 MT/s] is more than four times of the current high-end ARMADA 610 [45 MT/s], and the introduction of an optimized third CPU is an innovative feature which should deliver better battery life than a dual-CPU chip that simply shuts down one CPU. According to Linley Gwennap:

To maximize battery life, the processor uses the smaller CPU most of the time, but it can shift to the powerful dual CPUs when maximum performance is required. The new Marvell processor is currently sampling and due to enter production next March.

With the current availability of the samples to the customers it is “just” the time needed to create the high-volume, consumer market products for the mass availability. Because the ARMADA 628 is a member of a whole family of processors designed for easy software porting it is not a great engineering challenge to develop the new devices based on this new and “marvelous” SoC. Hopefully the device vendors are also well ahead in their business development activities for  ultra-low power but at the same time ultra-high performance handheld products in the smartphone and tablet space. If not yet then they will have enough market experience for early next year when all the supply (in addition to the hopefully mass-produced by that time ARMADA 628 SoC) and distribution arrangements could be organised by them.

How the competition is standing up against this leadership offering? Badly, since there is nothing comparable to ARMADA 628 in a 1-2 years timeframe ahaead of us:

Qualcomm: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon devices to arrive at end of 2011, 1.2GHz in Q1 [Sept 8]
Qualcomm 1.5GHz Snapdragon due end of 2011, not Q1 [Sept 8]

NVIDIA CEO: Tegra 3 almost done, Tegra 4 on the way, expect a new Tegra annually [Sept 21]
NVIDIA Finds Its Rhythm: Tegra 3 Imminent with Annual Updates [Sept 21]
which titles may sound quite competitive but in fact these are just mumblings by their desparate CEO as evidenced by these two videos from an unrelated press conference (obviously the CEO was just using the opportunity to “fend-off” the upcoming annoucement known to him already):
- NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsen Huang talks about Tegra [Sept 21], with a very low quality voice recorded by someone in the audience
- the other one, with a better voice record, embedded in the above mentioned NVIDIA Finds Its Rhythm: Tegra 3 Imminent with Annual Updates article which is making it obvious that the only real specific what was said was:

Tegra 2 is just our first entry (into the mobile market), Tegra 3 is almost done, Tegra 4 is being built. Just think in the context of the NVIDIA rhythm. Every single year, there will be a new Tegra.

Nothing more!

Finally regarding comparable high SoC processor plans from Samsung/Intrinsity[Apple] combo there is no new information at all. The Hummingbird chip (Samsung’s S5PC110 and Apple’s A4) is even no match to the #2 (after ARMADA 628) Qualcomm 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon, also in the sampling phase right now.

When considering the competition one should also consider that Marvell has even high-impact end-customer initiatives as parts of  its long-term strategy:

- Moby for education/learning and healthcare/medical (see also their $75 tablet project with Pixel Qi and OLPC, mentioned before, as the natural evolution for Moby)

Follow-up: Marvell to capitalize on BRIC market with the Moby tablet [Feb 3, 2011]

- Plug Computer with only 2 watts of power dissipation (complete for the below spec) for typical applications such as a high performance home server, multimedia server, web proxy etc. The latest CES 2011 release [Jan 5, 2011] is stating even more:

Marvell's Plug Computer 3.0 announced on CES 2011 with a 2 GHz ARMADA™ 300 processor, Embedded Wi-Fi, Bluetooth enabled, 512MB flash, 512MB DDR2, 1.8 inch HD, 1 USB 2.0, 1 Mini USB, 1 10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet, and SDIO slot.

From streaming the latest winter vacation video to a connected TV in the bedroom, to enjoying favorite music on a Wi-Fi enabled receiver in the living room, Plug Computer 3.0 makes enjoying media on intelligent devices throughout the home easier and on-the-go more enjoyable than before.

The release of Plug Computer 3.0 opens up additional applications and usage in key new markets: Smart Grid, Home Automation, Medical Monitoring, Multimedia Content Sharing, Security and Access Control, Industrial Automation, Agricultural, Mesh and Grid Computing.

More information

* Quite important note for the information given above and below: Marvell has developed and continuing to develop two types of synthesizable cores: PJ1 and PJ4. Unfortunately there is no public information on that except the appearance in various processor products. These cores allow different kinds of core optimisations (an example is the 3d CPU vs dual high-peformance ones in ARMADA 628) and various ARM Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) implementations (as seen below in our product catalogue references). This is a highly competitive differentiator for Marvell.
Update: the PJ1 was also called 88SV331x, and the codename for it “MOHAWK”

“We believe that the PXA920 solution will help us realize China Mobile’s vision of sub-1000 RMB [~$150, unsubsidized] TD OPhones in the near future,” said Bill Huang general manager of China Mobile Research Institute. “Marvell has worked with us from the start of the PXA920 program and we are excited by the rapid progress we have made towards realizing this milestone. China Mobile will work closely with Marvell and handset eco-system partners to deploy the PXA920 and we look forward to the rapid launch of next generation TD-SCDMA OPhones based on the Marvell PXA920.”

Update: That opportunity was realized only 2 years later. See:First real chances for Marvell on the tablet and smartphone fronts [Aug 21, 2011]

The ARMADA family of application processors sets a new standard by offering CPU cores with PC-class performance, support for Adobe Flash technology and Blu-ray functionality. Additional features include complete broadband connectivity for the next wave of innovative electronics, spanning price points from low cost consumer gadgets all the way to premium performance devices. Customer adoption has been rapid: to date, Marvell ARMADA application processors have won more than 50 design wins.

The ARMADA 300 series offers more than 2.0 GHz processing horsepower in a sub 2W power envelope [it is even less for the ARMADA 310: "under normal load, this device operates on average in less than one watt power consumption envelope" said Sahat Sutardja, Marvell's CEO at the March 4, 2010 Earnings Call] for the entire System on Chip – a level of performance never before seen with this class of processor – and the flexibility, interfaces and price points that fit the needs of today’s digital economy.

  • Marvell Changes the Game Again – New ARMADA 610 Application Processor First to Bring 1080p Full-HD Encode and Decode and 3D Multimedia Performance to Mobile Connected Devices [Jan 5, 2010]: the introduction of the second Sheeva PJ4*-based member of the ARMADA family. The ARMADA 610 has been designed for mobility, features a 1 GHz CPU, has an integrated 3D engine which renders 45M triangles-per-second (via a complete floating point pipeline and unified vertex and fragment/pixel shading) for an immersive gameplay experience with the ability to drive the latest in 3D enabled user interfaces, a lot of integrated peripheral controller on the same die etc. It is targeted at “eReader, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), tablets, smartbook/netbooks, connected portable media players, smartphones, and new personal information appliances.” Subsequently it was “designed to use extremely low power while maintaining high processing performance [2.42 DMIPS/MHz] and attractive price points for manufacturers.” It was “currently sampling to early customers.”

Based on the same CPU architecture as the Marvell® ARMADA™ 500 and 600 processor series, Marvell’s quadcore implementation can deliver gigahertz-plus processing per core and is designed for customer-specific products such as mass consumer market and high volume gaming applications.

“Introducing our quadcore technology to the world represents a pivotal moment in CPU development for the consumer electronics industry,” said Ms. Weili Dai, Marvell’s Co-founder and Vice President and General Manager of Marvell Semiconductor, Inc.’s Consumer and Computing Business Unit. “Today’s media-rich consumer applications are already pushing the limits. By making quadcore capabilities available to our customers we will enable the newest generation of cutting edge devices that consumers will always demand — more horsepower, higher performance, better battery life, and more attractive price points than ever before for mass consumer market adoption.”

Marvell has a long history of delivering multicore technology to customers for use in a broad variety of applications ranging from pachinko machines, printers, gaming, networking, gateways, all the way up to computing-intensive enterprise applications. This announcement of the first implementation of quadcore technology for the ARM ecosystem further demonstrates Marvell’s ability to deliver high performance, flexible technology that meets the silicon requirements of numerous tier-one customers, regardless of the end application.

“With the introduction of the ARMADA line of processors, we see the wide variety of devices that Marvell’s application processors can power,” said Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. “Before ARMADA, the ARM ecosystem was thought to be limited by performance barriers. Now, with this announcement of its quadcore technology, Marvell is showing the world the ARM ecosystem’s true potential while cementing its position among the leaders in advanced CPU development for mass market consumer applications.”

Marvell’s quadcore solution is designed to meet customer specific requirements for mass consumer market opportunities. For more information about Marvell quadcore technologies please visit www.marvell.com or contact a sales representative.

… the Company will demonstrate its quad-core processing, enterprise-class cloud computing platform, Marvell® ARMADA™ XP (Extreme Performance).  The ARMADA XP is the fastest ARM processor available on the market today for enterprise class applications. The new platform integrates four Marvell designed ARM compliant 1.6GHz CPU cores along with a host of I/O peripherals to offer one of the highest levels of integration in the industry. By employing advanced design methodology and process technology, the ARMADA XP is optimized to consume strikingly low power at 1.6GHz, delivering the best performance per watt [16,600 DMIPS performance at less than 10 watts see below in the "Key Features" section] to empower emerging cloud computing applications ranging from high performance networking and web servers to high volume home server products like Network Attached Storage (NAS) and media servers.

Marvell’s introduction of a powerful solution for enterprise-class cloud computing applications is a very important milestone in the mobile Internet revolution—cloud computing mobile servers like those powered by the ARMADA XP are the key link in what I envision to be a seamless, unified ecosystem of mobile connected devices, information appliances and smart ‘furnishings,’” said Weili Dai, Co-Founder of Marvell.  “Marvell’s leadership in mobility, consumer, storage, enterprise networking and Wi-Fi products completes the circuit, delivering a powerful end-to-end total solution to anyone connected to the new global mesh, from consumers to small business and the enterprise.”

The ARMADA XP supplements the Marvell Plug Computer initiative by enabling a new class of mobile servers to serve the growing performance demands of connected consumer devices like smartphones and tablets. The new quad-core further builds on the success of the Marvell® Discovery™ Innovation and ARMADA 300 series by maintaining software compatibility to offer existing Marvell customers significant advantage in terms of reduced development cost and faster time to market.

About ARMADA XP series

The ARMADA XP is based on Marvell-designed ARM v7 MP compatible CPU offering 1.6GHz processing per core performance, delivering 16,600 DMIPS to make high performance computing affordable for mainstream applications. It integrates 2 MB of L2 cache and supports 64-bit DDR3 memory interface with ECC at 800MHz clock rate to enable a high throughput memory sub-system design. The ARMADA XP is a highly integrated System-on-a-Chip (SoC) that combines quad x4 PCI-express (PCI-e) interfaces, multiple USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet ports, SATA ports, security engine and other I/O peripherals to make system designs simple and economical.  With ARMADA XP’s advanced power management architecture, it offers the industry’s best performance per watt to alleviate the challenges of energy and cooling costs faced by enterprise and server class systems.

Key Features

  • Industry’s first quad-core ARM processor for enterprise applications
    • Up to 1.6GHz processing performance for each ARM v7 compliant core
    • 16,600 DMIPS performance at less than 10 watts
    • “Heterogeneous  multiprocessing” (SMP/AMP/Mixed) with “hardware-based Cache Coherence”
    • Up to 2MB system level two cache
    • Supplements the ARMADA family of single, dual-core and tri-core processors for easy software porting
  • 64-bit DDR2/DDR3/DDR3L memory interface with ECC support at up to 800MHz clock rates
  • 4 PCI-e Gen 2.0 units
  • 4 enterprise class Gigabit networking ports
  • Up to 16 high speed Marvell SERDES lanes with multi functionality (PCI-e, SATA, SGMII, QSGMII)
  • Multiple USB ports
  • Ultra low power consumption with advanced power management capabilities

Comprehensive Development Tools Marvell offers complete development platforms for the ARMADA XP enabling customers to start system development without waiting for hardware. Development platforms are available including software drivers and board support package.

Availability

Marvell’s ARMADA XP will be on display at the ARM Technology Conference on November 9-11, 2010 at booth #200. The ARMADA XP is currently sampling to customers.

Official Marvell product catalogues

  • ARMADA 100 the current Sheeva PJ1*-based, “cost sensitive” application processor products (showed along with the preceding PXA3xx – Monahans which came with Intel’s XSCale aquisition). Frequency: 0.4 – 1.2 GHz (the upper limit is missing on the ARMADA* overview page). Instruction Set Architecture (ISA): ARMv5 / XScale.
  • ARMADA 300 the Sheeva PJ1*-based embedded processors, currently the ARMADA 300/310SoCs (high-performance ARMADA 300 with frequency of 1.6 – 2.0 GHz, low power ARMADA 310 with frequency of 0.8 GHz and 1.0 GHz), which came in addition to the “pre-ARMADA” Discovery (single core with frequency of 0.6 – 1.2 GHz and dual core with frequency of 0.8 – 1.0 GHz) and Kirkwood (single core with frequency of 0.6 – 2.0 GHz and dual core with frequency of 0.8 – 1.0 GHz) series of PJ1* based products. Instruction Set Architecture (ISA): ARMv5.
  • ARMADA 500: the high-end Sheeva PJ4*-based application processors for high performance consumer devices such as netbooks and smartbooks (now would rather be called slates, tables etc.). Currently the ARMADA 510 SoC with frequency of 1.2 GHz. Instruction Set Architecture (ISA): ARM v6 / ARM v7. One of the industry’s first running ARM v7 instruction set.
  • ARMADA 600: the high-end Sheeva PJ4*-based application processors bringing high performance to the most compact form factors, such as smartphones and embedded mobile devices. Currently the ARMADA 610 and ARMADA 618 of 1.0 GHz SoCs (check for documentation on ARMADA 628). Instruction Set Architecture (ISA): ARM v6 / ARM v7. One of the industry’s first running ARM v7 instruction set.
  • ARMADA 1000: for digital entertainment application processors, i.e. “the next generation of connected full-HD consumer devices, delivering immersive viewing experiences and offering a variety of networked applications at mainstream price points”. Currently the Sheeva PJ1*-based two-core ARMADA 1000/88DE3010 High-Definition Media Processor with frequency of upto 1.2 GHz. Instruction Set Architecture (ISA): ARMv5 / XScale. TDP: 5W (see: Nixeus Fusion XS Brings Marvell into the DMA Market [March 11, 2011]
  • ARMADA XP: for enterprise-class cloud computing applications, i.e. “empower emerging cloud computing applications ranging from high performance networking and web servers to high volume home server products like Network Attached Storage (NAS) and media servers”. Quite probably based on Sheeva PJ4* cores, with one, two and four core versions, and a corresponding variety of I/O peripherals on the same chip.
  • In the ARMADA XP Product Brief (quite worth to look at) you can find a broader target market defined as: “With its broad offering of 5 pin compatible chips, the ARMADA XP is ideally suited for applications ranging from high-performance networking, wireless infrastructure and web servers to high volume products like NAS, home servers, laser printers and other embedded applications.” This is also showing that the ARMADA XP series SoC is a companion to Marvell’s embedded products as well (shown under embedded for this reason as well), i.e. the Sheeva PJ1* based Discovery, Kirkwood and ARMADA 300 series. The ARMADA XP series of Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) is ARM v7 (ARM v6 is not mentioned why it could — quite probably — have an enhanced Sheeva PJ4* core).
<!–[if gte mso 9]> 12.00 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!–[endif]–>88F6000 SoCs

About Nacsa Sándor

Lazure Kft. • infokommunikációs felhő szakértés • high-tech marketing • elérhetőség: snacsa@live.com Okleveles villamos és automatizálási mérnök (1971) Munkahelyek: Microsoft, EMC, Compaq és Digital veterán. Korábban magyar cégek (GDS Szoftver, Computrend, SzáMOK, OLAJTERV). Jelenleg Lazure Kft. Amire szakmailag büszke vagyok (időrendben visszafelé): – Microsoft .NET 1.0 … .NET 3.5 és Visual Studio Team System bevezetések Magyarországon (2000 — 2008) – Digital Alpha technológia vezető adatközponti és vállalati szerver platformmá tétele (másokkal együttes csapat tagjaként) Magyarországon (1993 — 1998) – Koncepcionális modellezés (ma használatos elnevezéssel: domain-driven design) az objektum-orientált programozással kombinált módon (1985 — 1993) – Poszt-graduális képzés a miniszámítógépes szoftverfejlesztés, konkurrens (párhuzamos) programozás és más témákban (1973 — 1984) Az utóbbi időben általam művelt területek: ld. lazure2.wordpress.com (Experiencing the Cloud) – Predictive strategies based on the cyclical nature of the ICT development (also based on my previous findings during the period of 1978 — 1990) – User Experience Design for the Cloud – Marketing Communications based on the Cloud
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11 Responses to Marvell ARMADA beats Qualcomm Snapdragon, NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung/Apple Hummingbird in the SoC market [again]

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