Wednesday, October 7, 2015

IT News Head Lines (AnandTech) 08/10/2015


Hands On: Surface Pro 4, Surface Book, & New Lumia Phones
After the press event today, Microsoft had all of the devices available for a hands-on experience. Of all the devices, I was most excited to see the Surface Book and what it brings to the table so let’s start there

The Surface Book is of course Microsoft’s 13.5-inch 2-in-1 device which is as close to a true notebook as they will likely ever make. They wanted to redefine the category and they have definitely taken a step in the right direction. First of all, the keyboard dock has a very good keyboard. Travel was good, and the key presses themselves were very solid. Panos said in the keynote it was quiet but it was difficult to judge in such a noisy room.

The latching system is certainly unique. I spent about a minute trying to separate the top from the bottom before I was shown that you have to press a button on the keyboard to unlock the tablet. This is the right way to do it. There is no way to accidentally separate the two, and the only way you could do it is by breaking it which I would not recommend. It really does feel like a notebook when you are using it and not a traditional tablet that docks into a keyboard (can you say traditional about this product category?) and the weight of the keyboard itself ensures that you don’t have a top-heavy experience.

They are very proud of their new display which includes a custom display controller they are calling the G5. It processes both touch and pen input. The display itself is one of the first where the LCD driver transistors are now built into the panel itself as a thin strip along all edges. This allows them to reduce the bezel size.

I think the Surface Book looks to be a defining product from Microsoft. With the Surface tablet lineup, it took them a couple of generations to get it right, but they have taken all of that and put it into the Surface Book including the 3:2 display which should be very nice. Battery life is of course a concern with such a higher resolution panel but Microsoft is using an IGZO solution here so the impact may not be as bad as it could.

Moving on to the Surface Pro 4, it has gotten thinner and lighter again, somehow. It is just 8.4mm thick compared to 9.1 on the Surface Pro 3 and yet it still has a 15-watt Core processor. The internals of the Surface Pro were also on display. Microsoft has a very large passive heatsink between the battery and the LCD which they can use to cool the processor effectively without having to use the fan at all in most situations, but when more cooling is needed, they can turn on the second stage which is the active cooling. I was told that the solution can actually dissipate more than 15-watt load of the CPU so I am very eager to test this out and see if it suffers from the throttling that the Surface Pro 3 had. The move to Skylake here from Haswell should also make a big improvement.

The display is slightly larger at 12.3-inches because of the new panel. The bezels are reduced but not eliminated which should be better for tablet use. The Windows key on the side has been removed, which is a good thing since it is not needed with Windows 10 and I found myself bumping it by mistake too often.

I think the biggest improvement though is the new keyboard. It is somehow lighter and thinner, yet it is so much more rigid than the old model. But the best part is the new keys. They have much better travel and the keys now fill out the entire width of the device, and the trackpad has been increased 40% as well which should help it a lot. The trackpad on the Surface Pro 3 is ok, but you tend to run out of room on it a lot.

Moving on to the phones, the new Lumia 950 and 950XL both feel like they will be decent flagship phones for Windows 10 Mobile, but they are not as cutting edge as Surface. They are using the Snapdragon 808 and 810 near the end of their lifecycle, and they have not proven to be the best processors for phones this year. The Lumias do have liquid cooling, which is basically a heat pipe to help spread the heat around and keep them operating strongly. We will need more than a hands on to see if that is the case of course.

The displays looked great, and the return of Glance is a “finally” moment. Cameras were decent on the 930 already, so I am curious to see what else has been done with the new models other than just the specifications.

One great thing about the new phones is that the back and sides come off, allowing you to add storage or, change the back altogether. Microsoft showed off a couple of leather options for the back of the phone which would give it a premium feel.

The Lumia 550 was surprisingly good for $140. It feels solid, and the display is nice for something so low cost. I did not get to see this one much but hopefully we can get it in for review soon.

I’m going to skip the Band for now since I need to put my thoughts together on that one. It’s not quite a smart watch and not quite a fitness band, but almost more.

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Microsoft Launches Three New Lumia Phones
Today Microsoft officially revealed three phones which have been showing up in leaks for the past while. Leaks always seem to take away some of the wow factor at a launch, but the latest Windows 10 Mobile phones look to be a solid offering from the Redmond group in a division which has seen a lot of disruption over the last year or so.

Let’s start with the flagship phones. The Lumia division has not had a flagship phone since the Lumia 930 launched as the Lumia Icon back in February of 2014. That is an eternity in the smartphone space, and considering it was not exactly bleeding edge at the time, it has quickly fallen behind some of the other players.

Lumia 550 Lumia 950 Lumia 950XL
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 quad-core A7 Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 2xA57+4xA53 Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 4xA57+4xA53
Memory unknown
Display 4.7" 1280x720 LCD with Glance 5.2" 2560x1440 OLED with Glance 5.7" 2560x1440 OLED with Glance
Storage unknown 32 GB plus microSD
Camera 5MP Rear, 2MP Front 20MP w/OIS Rear, Triple LED flash, 5MP Front
Price $139 $549 $649

Microsoft is launching two models of their flagship to suit different peoples wants and needs. First, the Lumia 950 is a 5.2-inch device with a 2560x1440 OLED display. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 32 GB of storage, and a 20 MP camera. The Lumia 950XL is its larger cousin, and has a 5.7-inch display with the same 2560x1440 resolution, and it is also OLED. The main difference between the two other than the display size is the 950XL moves up to the Snapdragon 810.

Lumia 950XL

One thing that I have been wondering for a while is whether or not Windows 10 Mobile would launch with ARM 64-bit support, and the answer is unfortunately no. The processors are of course 64-bit capable but Windows 10 Mobile has decided to target 32-bit support.

With that bad news out of the way, the phones themselves are solid offerings and should have plenty of performance compared to the current generation of Windows devices. Microsoft was keen to show off their Continuum experience, which allows the phone to be connected to a display and used as a Windows 10 desktop, albeit with only access to Universal Windows Apps. The demo was good though and they showed off the app loading and multitasking capabilities very well.

Lumia 950

The 950 and 950XL feature a removable back, so you can get some interesting rear colors and material choices. Microsoft had some leather backs on display that looked and felt great, and there were several colors to choose from as well.

The camera has generally been a strong point of the Lumia line, and the 20 MP model has the same number of pixels as the Lumia 930 but is backed by a 5th generation optical image stabilization. Although there was no chance to test the low light capabilities, we hope to have more time to test these out soon.

One thing that has made its way back is the Glance Screen, which leverages the OLED to allow the Lumia to display important information on the display even when the phone is turned off. This is a fantastic feature that I have used on several phones, and having a phone without it is a burden after you have used it.

They will also feature Windows Hello facial recognition to unlock the phone. The demo took a couple of seconds which is too long, but it may have been non-ideal lighting. It needs to be as easy as fingerprint unlock to gain traction so this will also need to be tested further.

The Lumia 950 and 950XL will go on sale in November at $549 and $649 respectively.

The other Lumia announced was a much less expensive option. The Lumia 550 is a new low cost model featuring the Snapdragon 210 quad-core processor and LTE. The camera is just 5 MP but the 4.7-inch 1280x720 LCD display also features Glance. The 550 is decidedly less exciting, but the price is just $139 with it arriving in December.

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Microsoft Reveals the Surface Book
Pretty much since the original Surface was born, I, and many others, have wished that Microsoft would try their hands at a laptop computer. It’s not even that the original Surface was a great device, but the whole idea was to kickstart some new device types, and now Surface has turned into a big business in its own right. The latest Surface Pro 4 looks to be the best iteration yet.

So today Microsoft is trying to redefine the laptop category with the Surface Book. With Surface Pro, it was the tablet that can replace your laptop, and with Surface Book, it is what Microsoft is calling “The Ultimate Laptop” and we shall see about that but it has a lot going for it. Compared to the Surface Pro 4, the display is larger at 13.5-inches but keeps the same 3:2 aspect ratio that has now defined the Surface lineup. People sick of 16:9 laptops should be happy to see this.

The display itself is 3000x2000 pixels, which works out to exactly 6,000,000 pixels and the same 267 pixels per inch of the Surface Pro 4. It has the same 0.4 mm thick Gorilla Glass covering as well, and contains the same PixelSense capabilities that mean it will also work with the pen and of course touch. Each panel is calibrated for sRGB out of the box.

This is not your ordinary laptop where the display is just the display and the key components of the notebook are under the keys. Instead, the screen is detachable like many two-in-one devices, but the base itself is connected and houses the NVIDIA GPU and some batteries, as well as USB ports and a SD card reader like you would expect on an Ultrabook.

The hinge is certainly very interesting, and it kind of reminds me of a new take on the Yoga 3 Pro’s keyboard hinge, although this one is much thicker. Microsoft calls it a Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge. One weird thing about the hinge is that when the device is closed, the top and bottom don’t meet. It is weird to see but I would need some more time with it to see if it is an issue. A benefit of the slightly raised rear is when the display is connected flipped around for writing, the glass is slightly tilted towards you which is something I often find myself doing with the Surface lineup of tablets.

The latching system is ridiculously strong. Microsoft is using a wire that can change its length if a voltage is applied to it. You have to press and hold a button on the keyboard to invoke this charge so the actual separation is never going to be by accident, but it does take longer than some other detachable devices.

I am a bit of a keyboard nut myself, and I really like a proper keyboard, so it is great to see that the Surface Book will have 1.6 mm of key travel, and a nice layout. I am generally not a fan of light keys with backlighting so we will have to see how this holds up in the real world. The trackpad is a Microsoft Precision trackpad with a glass top and five points of touch.

On the spec side, there will be Core i5 and i7 versions of this available, and the GPU is optional with the Core i5, but standard with the Core i7. Base configurations come with 8 GB of memory, but there is a 16 GB version as well, and storage is PCIe based SSDs from 128 GB to 1 TB.

Surface Book
Core i5 Core i5 w/GPU Core i7 w/GPU
GPU Intel HD 520 Intel + NVIDIA GeForce dGPU

(Maxwell w/GDDR5)
CPU 6th Generation Intel Core i5 (15w)

6th Generation Intel Core i5 (15w)

6th Generation Intel Core i7 (15w)
Memory 8-16GB RAM
Display 13.5" PixelSense 3000x2000 resolution

1800:1 Contrast Ratio

100% sRGB, individually calibrated

10 point touch and Pen support
Storage PCIe 3.0 SSD 128 GB to 1 TB
I/O USB 3.0 x 2 (In Base)

SD Card reader (In Base)

Surface Connector (In Tablet and Base)

Headset Jack

Mini DisplayPort
Dimensions Laptop

(mm) : 232 x 312 x 13.0-22.8

(inches) : 9.14 x 12.3 x 0.51-0.90

Tablet Only

(mm) : 220.2 x 312.3 x 7.7

(inches) : 8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30
Weight Laptop

1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs

Tablet Only

726 g / 1.6 lbs

1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs

Tablet Only

726 g / 1.6 lbs
Camera Windows Hello (Front)

8 MP Rear Facing

5 MP Front Facing
Price $1499+ $1899+ $2099+

Size and weight are always a key with this class of device, and despite the 13.5-inch size, the tablet itself only comes in at 1.6 lbs or 726 grams. Adding the keyboard moves the Surface Book out past the incredible weight of some of the latest Ultrabooks, with the non-GPU version coming in at 3.34 lbs or 1.51 kg, and the GPU adds a bit more weight to come in at 3.48 lbs or 1.58 kg.

The Surface Book will go on pre-order tomorrow starting at $1499 up to $2699 for the Core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and the GPU. No 1 TB models are listed yet but they were announced. Microsoft is likely waiting on manufacturers to offer M.2 1 TB models.

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Microsoft Announces the Surface Pro 4, from $900
Devices Day at Microsoft grows every year. We have seen the numerous Surface announcements come through the special event held in NYC, as well as the peripheral devices around the ecosystem and a few smartphones as well. As this is the first Device Day after Windows 10 launch, we were greeted with numbers and facts about Windows 10 adoption rates, such as 110 million Win10 installs in 10 weeks, 1 billion questions asked through Cortana and 1.25 billion visits to the Microsoft app store. While the Surface Book announcement arguably stole the show, the big presentation everyone was expecting was for the new Surface Pro 4.

Panos Panay exalted the virtues and successes of the Surface Pro 3, such as the march towards 98% of users recommending the device. However the Surface Pro 4 aims to break such records. The device itself looks like an upgrade of the SP3, featuring 500 unique parts, however due to Intel’s major release of their 6th Generation Core platform, the SP4 was expected to get the whole platform upgrade. As a result we will see SP4 devices with Core M (Intel’s 4.5-watt platform), Core i5 and Core i7 processors up to 15W and ‘up to nine hours’ of battery life.

The Core i7 models will have Iris integrated graphics, which is part of Intel’s eDRAM strategy and we assume at this point that they will have 64MB of eDRAM. Microsoft showed the three-chip SoC in one of their presentation slides:

From 12-inches in the SP3 to 12.3-inches in the SP4, we are told that the device itself is not any bigger as Microsoft were able to reduce the size of the bezels. The display optical stack is also thinner than before, with Microsoft saying it is the thinnest optical stack ever fitted and comes with Microsoft custom silicon in the form of a G5 processor to help drive the display. The chassis is machined magnesium with the same SP3 kickstand that allows multi-position configurations. The SP4 comes in at 8.4 mm thick and a hybrid cooled system as well. The display retails the 3:2 aspect ratio of the SP3 but boasts a ‘5 million pixel display’, or 2736x1824 in numbers, with PixelSense. Each display is 100% sRGB with individual calibration, but also features 10-point multitouch.

Microsoft Surface Pro Comparison
Pro 4 Pro 3 Pro 2 Pro
Dimensions 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.33" 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53"
Display 12.3-inch

2736 x 1824

2160 x 1440

1920 x 1080

1920 x 1080
Weight 1.69 lbs (m3)

1.73 lbs (i5/i7)
1.76 lbs 2.0 lbs 2.0 lbs
Processor Core m3, i5 or i7 Core i3, i5 or i7 Core i5 Core i5
Cameras 8MP / 5MP

5MP/5MP (front/rear) 1.2MP/1.2MP (front/rear) 1.2MP/1.2MP (front/rear)
Connectivity 2T2R 802.11ac 2T2R 802.11ac 2T2R 802.11n 2T2R 802.11n
Memory 4GB, 8GB or 16GB LPDDR3 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3 4GB
Storage 128, 256, 512GB or 1TB

PCIe 3.0
64, 128, 256 or 512GB 64/128GB or

64GB or 128GB
Battery 'up to 9hrs' 42.0 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.0 Wh
Starting Price $899 $799 $899 $799

The hardware will also come in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB models for DRAM, paired with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of PCIe 3.0 based SSD storage. We would assume this is PCIe 3.0 x4 in line with current high end storage in other PCs, although Microsoft does not specify at this point. 802.11ac 2T2R WiFi comes as standard with MIMO enabled.

Cameras come in the form of an 8MP rear facing auto-focus and a 5MP front-facing camera, both capable of 1080p. Nothing special was made about the microphones, but the SP4 comes with a full-size USB 3.0 port (note no USB 3.1 or Type-C here). Other inputs include a mini-DisplayPort for external displays, headphones/microphone jack and the Surface Connect for movement out to an external dock capable of driving more screens and USB ports.

The new Surface Pen is an upgraded model, featuring 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and is presumably a derivative from Microsoft’s acquisition of pen technology from N-Trig. Microsoft will offer several colors of pen, and adjustable tips to account for the feel of the pen. On stage we noted that these will be labelled similar to pencils, and Microsoft will offer B, HB, H and 2H alternatives but prices were not announced for these. The pen is stored by magnetic attachments to the SP4, rather than a storage bay

New Type Covers are inbound as well, featuring a new switch design that facilitates quiet operation and 1.3 mm travel due to a new scissor design. The keyboard is backlit, and the trackpad is 40% larger than previous type covers. It is also worth noting that the trackpad uses precision glass, which Microsoft claims should give a more accurate representation when used. They weren’t 100% clear on the use of fingerprint sensors on trackpads, but there seems to be some versions with fingerprint sensors enabled as well. No pricing was given on the new Type Covers.

The basic SP4 box will come with the device, a Surface Pen and a power supply (24W with Core m3, 36W with i5/i7 that also has a USB charging port).  Prices will start from $900 and go up to $2200, with pre-orders starting on October 7th. Devices will be available from October 26th, but Microsoft failed to mention which regions they would be available, so given the price information we could assume it might be a US/NA initial launch at this point with other regions to follow. If we get more information on this, we will update this post.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Configuration Options
Configuration $899 $999 $1299 $1599 $1799 $2199 $2699
CPU Core m3 Core i5 Core i5 Core i7 Core i7 Core i7 Core i7
TDP 4.5W ? 15W ? 15W ? 15W ? 15W ? 15 W ? 15 W ?
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4
GPU Intel HD 515 Intel HD 520 Intel HD 520 Intel Iris 540 Intel Iris 540 Intel Iris 540 Intel Iris 540
GPU EUs 12 24 24 48 48 48 48
eDRAM None None None 64 MB 64 MB 64 MB 64 MB
Storage 128 GB 128 GB 256 GB 256 GB 256 GB 512 GB 1 TB
RAM 4 GB 4 GB 8 GB 8 GB 16 GB 16 GB 16 GB

At this point the exact CPU models are unknown, or whether each device will use some form of cTDP Up or cTDP Down to align with the chassis. One would assume the Core m3 is in cTDP Up mode to align with the performance of the others, though the battery life of the Core m3 device would be interesting nonetheless as the CPU draws less power overall. We will have to try and source at least one m3, i5 and i7 due to the configuration differences for review. 

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Marvell Announces First MoChi Architecture Modules: SoCs Go To Pieces
Much has been written over the last few years on the significant cost issues semiconductor companies are and will be facing over the coming years. While newer manufacturing nodes have increased transistor density and reduced power consumption, they have come at a cost of increased manufacturing and development costs for chips using these nodes. Yet more worrying for manufacturers, the costs of preparing chips for new nodes isn’t just rising but rising quickly, with mask sets already over a million dollars and expected to grow even further thanks to the high costs of developing masks for current multi-patterning technologies.

As a result semiconductor companies have been increasingly focused on containing costs, especially in the highly competitive and lower margin commodity markets, where customers are very sensitive to price and have many alternatives. These customers in turn still need higher performance parts to improve their own products, but they can’t necessarily afford to pay the full cost for a chip built on a cutting-edge node.

Looking to address this problem, earlier this year Marvell announced their Modular Chip (MoChi) architecture. The MoChi architecture in turn would attempt to control rising SoC costs by modularizing traditional SoCs and only manufacturing the most performance critical modules on a leading-edge node, while manufacturing the other modules on cheaper existing nodes. By splitting up a chip in this fashion, the number of transistors laid down on the leading-edge node would be held to a minimum, resulting in a smaller module that would be cheaper to design and cheaper to produce than a full SoC, all the while the other modules would be relatively cheap to produce and cheap to design (if not largely held over from existing designs to begin with).

After previously announcing the MoChi architecture and its design goals, this morning Marvell is announcing that the first two MoChi-enabled SoCs. The first of these is the AP806, a quad-core Cortex-A72 design that contains just the CPU, memory controller, and associated logic, and is designed for higher performance devices. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum is the ARMADA 3700, a more integrated MoChi module containing a dual-core Cortex-A53 processor setup along with additional networking IP and primarily designed for use in networking products.

Marvell is not disclosing what manufacturing node either module is being produced on, however in the case of the AP806 it is a likely bet that it is based on TSMC’s 16nm FinFET process given the focus on ARM’s high-performance Cortex-A72 processor. Meanwhile the ARMADA 3700 can be considered a toss-up; as MoChi is meant for post-28nm designs it’s possible it’s a 16nm design as well, though 20nm and 28nm are not out of the question if Marvell is focusing more on the customization possibilities of its modularity than die size and power efficiency.

Meanwhile joining these two modules and completing the MoChi design will be other modules. Developed by both Marvell and third parties, Marvell has not announced any other modules at this time. However in discussing these modules, the company noted that they would contain secondary functions like I/O, security, WiFi, LTE, and other more traditional south bridge functionality. It’s by producing these modules on older processes (e.g. 28nm) that Marvell is able to contain costs, and meanwhile it gives them and customers the opportunity to mix and match modules to build an SoC with the specific functionality they’re after. And in the case of modules from third parties, this also serves as an avenue to integrate third party IP into what’s otherwise a Marvell SoC without Marvell having to go the semi-custom route of integrating multiple vendors’ IP into a single SoC.

Getting back to MoChi itself, as these are the first modules based around the architecture, it’s interesting to note the tradeoffs that are involved in developing a MoChi SoC. While Marvell more immediately limits development costs and production costs via a smaller die on a leading-edge node, this is balanced with the fact that a MoChi chip is now a multi-chip module (MCM), which does have an impact on the development and power costs of connecting the modules, along with producing a larger package overall. So for Marvell there is a balancing act between driving down die costs without inflating other costs by too much.

Providing the actual interconnect functionality is a coherent, high-speed interconnect Marvell calls Aurora2, though it’s more frequently referred to as simply the MoChi interconnect. Based on cost and performance needs, the MoChi interconnect is available in what Marvell is calling both parallel and serial configurations. The parallel interconnect is faster, but is limited to short runs for cost and power reasons, whereas the serial interconnect is slower but cheaper as a result. For obvious reasons the parallel interconnect needs to run along a single SoC layer, whereas from Marvell’s comments it sounds like modules connected via the serial interconnect can be layered ala Package-on-Package technology.

Meanwhile thanks to the MoChi interconnect, Marvell is able to hide from software the fact that MoChi spreads out the different functions of an SoC over multiple modules. As a result the use of multiple modules is transparent to software, which continues to see the SoC as a single monolithic SoC. Marvell calls this a Virtual SoC design.

Unfortunately Marvell is not disclosing much in the way of details on the manufacturing side of matters, however from what we know about TSMC’s catalog we can take an educated guess at what Marvell is doing. Most likely the company is using TSMC’s Chip-On-Wafer-On-Substrate service (CoWoS), which as implied by the name involves building multiple dies on a single shared substrate. CoWoS is designed in part for precisely the kind of mixed-process modules that Marvell’s MoChi architecture uses, with the single shared substrate allowing for shorter runs of higher density connections. This in turn would allow Marvell to keep interconnect power in check, something that’s especially important for the MoChi parallel interconnect.

The tradeoff for Marvell here is that the shared substrate itself drives up costs and the use of Through-Silicon-Vias – which we first saw with HBM – also presents cost challenges. Which given this, it’s likely that CoWoS is only being used for the parallel interconnect, especially given the cost goals of the slower serial interconnect.

Wrapping things up, in discussing today’s announcement Marvell also confirmed that the announcement of the AP806 and ARMADA 3700 closely follows the sampling of these two modules. The company received their first samples in the lab for a few weeks now, so ideally customer samples shouldn’t be too far behind. At this point Marvell expects that MoChi chips should start showing up in products by the end of next year.

As for what products they’ll appear in, that’s ultimately up to what customers want. But given the fact that MoChi is a cost control technology, it stands to reason that it’s more likely to show up in cost-sensitive embedded applications than high-profile mobile devices. Marvell for their part notes that a lot of the initial focus is on enterprise and data center networking – particularly with the networking-optimized ARMADA 3700 – and along with storage products these are likely the first markets that we’ll see MoChi-based SoCs show up in.

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HSA Foundation Update: More HSA Hardware Coming Soon
When AMD set about bringing their CPU/GPU fusion initiative to life with the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) earlier this decade, one point AMD made early-on was that while they strongly believed in the need for heterogeneous computing and the performance gains it would offer, they would also be pragmatic. When you’re attempting to significantly alter the computing landscape and create architectures that can accommodate massively parallel workloads just as well as they can traditional serial workloads, it means you have to address not only the hardware end of the equation but the software end as well. In other words it means you need an ecosystem, and you cannot build an ecosystem of one.

To that end, in 2012 AMD founded the Heterogeneous System Architecture Foundation to serve as a neutral consortium to control the development of the HSA standard. Joined by co-founders ARM, Imagination, MediaTek, and others, the HSA Foundation would create the ecosystem necessary for HSA to succeed by creating a common standard for heterogeneous computing that multiple hardware vendors would implement. Software developers in turn could then write software targeting the HSA standard, allowing this software to work in a full heterogeneous manner across a wide range of hardware.

Meanwhile the fact that HSA was originally developed by AMD before being handed over to the HSA Foundation meant that while the major founders of the Foundation were all equals at the table, the timeline meant that the initial versions of HSA were to be spearheaded by AMD. AMD’s already-in-development hardware would be the first HSA-capable hardware to be released, and given the long lead times required for processor development, the other partners would be releasing their HSA designs later on, needing a full development cycle to integrate the technology. To that end the first pre-1.0 HSA hardware was 2014’s Kaveri APU, and the first 1.0 HSA hardware is AMD’s 2015 Carrizo APU.

Jumping to the present, a bit over three years since the HSA Foundation was formed, the HSA Foundation is now preparing for the next generation of HSA products. To that end, the Foundation is presenting an update on the state of HSA implementations at this year’s Linley Processor Conference. With the release of Carrizo putting HSA 1.0 into motion, ARM, Imagination, and MediaTek are now discussing their own HSA hardware release plans in greater detail. This is both to demonstrate their continued support for the standard as well as to offer some further detail in how the HSA ecosystem will work in the future with multiple vendors selling products and potentially IP from multiple vendors all in the same SoC.

ARM for their part is not yet announcing any specific IP or dates, but they are reiterating that they have HSA-capable IP in development. For ARM this means the company needs to develop both processor designs (CPU and GPU) that are compliant with HSA, but they also need to develop suitable a suitable interconnect that can comply with HSA’s memory sharing and coherency requirements, which in many ways is the core strength of the standard.

Meanwhile it’s interesting to note that although ARM isn’t at full HSA compliance quite yet, there’s a definite element of doing what they can within the capabilities of current hardware. Current ARM-based SoCs frequently already implement limited forms of heterogeneous computing, particularly when tapping the GPU for image processing (e.g. cameras). This is something ARM and other HSA members see as being an important stepping stone towards getting to full HSA compliance.

Meanwhile SoC designer MediaTek is similarly reiterating the presence of HSA-enabled SoCs in their roadmap. As one of ARM’s biggest customers, the plans of MediaTek and ARM go hand-in-hand – ARM supplies the IP, which MediaTek will then assemble into an SoC design – so at this stage MediaTek’s HSA plans essentially follow ARM’s HSA-complaint IP release schedule. In the meantime, like ARM, MediaTek is talking about how current SoCs and their more limited heterogonous capabilities are an important step on the way to full HSA.

The final HSA member taking part in the Foundation’s presentation is Imagination. Like ARM, Imagination is a pure IP provider, and along with AMD’s x86 and ARM’s ARM, they provide the third CPU architecture supporting HSA, MIPS. Imagination has HSA-capable designs in development both for their PowerVR GPUs and their I-class & P-class CPUs, further stating that “all” future designs for both lineups will support HSA. Imagination’s SoC interconnect/fabric is also being similarly updated to support the necessary memory coherency.

Meanwhile Imagination is also the only other participant putting an ETA on their HSA-capable products. For Imagination it will be a gradual rollout as older products reach the end of their lifetimes and are updated, but the company expects to be releasing their first HSA-capable IP designs in 2016. With roughly a year required to go from IP to hardware, this means we would start seeing the first HSA-capable Imagination-powered hardware in 2017, assuming designs for the CPU, GPU, and fabric are all released in 2016.

Imagination’s position as an IP provider better known for their GPUs than CPUs also brings up an interesting compatibility point that the Foundation is addressing, which is how HSA will work when multiple vendors are providing IP for use in the same SoC. While a top-to-bottom ARM or Imagination solution is relatively straightforward, things get far more interesting mixing and matching, such as an ARM Cortex CPU with an Imagination PowerVR GPU, something that already occurs today with SoCs from multiple vendors. In short the HSA standard does account for this, and as long as all of the necessary components of an SoC are HSA-compliant, then it will be possible to put together an HSA-capable SoC mixing IP from multiple vendors.

Ultimately it is the Foundation’s goal to not just see HSA prosper, but to see it deployed from the bottom to the top, mobile devices right on up to supercomputers. With that said, the bulk of the HSA founders are mobile firms, and it’s entirely likely that outside of AMD’s APUs we’re going to see the mobile market take off first. Though with mobile platforms being the ultimate power-constrained platform – you don’t just need to be efficient to use power wisely, but you have a finite battery capacity to begin with – mobile may very well be the market that stands to gain the most from HSA in the first place.

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Microsoft Windows 10 Devices Day NYC Live Blog
We're here in New York City for today's Microsoft hardware event. Thus far Microsoft has been very dilligent about avoiding leaks, so with any luck they should be able to surprise the crowd. Expectations for today include an update to the Surface Pro, and possibly some other new tablets and phones.

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Microsoft Band 2 Stays Focused on Fitness, Debuts Oct. 30, Priced at $249
Wearable integrates Cortana but manages to avoid distraction of becoming too much of a smartwatch

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Microsoft's HD-500 ("Display Dock"), the Magic Sauce Behind Continuum
Propietary hardware will be required for now; price not announced; device support will be limited initially to new models

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Quick Note: Windows 10 Hits 110 Million Devices, VMs
Microsoft is seeing roughly 7.5 million free upgrades and/or new device purchases per week

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Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL Finally Launch, w/ Windows 10, Liquid Cooling
Also onboard is 20 MP camera, microSD, triple-LED flash, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, Iris Scanner, USB 3.1, and an adaptive antenna

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Available Tags:Microsoft , Hardware , Windows

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