MediaTek has a long history of being a competitive player in the smartphone market. The company’s position has always been one that many have considered being a mid-tier and low-end solution provider with many of the most popular phones in the world selling with its chips in volumes that would surprise anyone. However, most of the devices that use MediaTek’s chips are not flagship phones, and the company has struggled to ship in devices more than $499. MediaTek has shipped chips like the OPPO Reno Z with the Helio P90 chip, but that phone sells for less than $499 and isn’t the same as the OPPO Reno 10x Zoom. MediaTek is trying to change all of that with this next generation of 5G SoCs, and that starts with the new Dimensity line of products.
Dimensity 1000 5G SoC
MediaTek’s new Dimensity line of SoCs includes the Dimensity 1000, which is MediaTek’s first 5G SoC and the second 5G SoC product announcement to date, with the Huawei Kirin 990 5G being the first announced chip. Huawei announced the Kirin 990 5G for the Mate 30 5G, but crippled the 5G modem, giving it a peak download bandwidth of only 2.3 Gbps and upload of 1.5 Gbps due to not having carrier aggregation. MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 chip is a direct competitor to Huawei’s Kirin 990 5G SoC as it also features an eight-core CPU design and is manufactured using TSMC’s 7nm process node as well. However, MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 chip features the latest ARM CPU and GPU IP, which Huawei’s Kirin 990 does not.
It all comes down to the cores
The Dimensity 1000 5G SoC features four ARM Cortex-A77 cores operating at up to 2.6 GHz with four power-efficient Cortex-A55 cores paired along (side note: MediaTek originally quoted the 1000 at 2.2GHz, but as the SOC headed towards final MP, the performance and yield came in ahead of expectations). The combination of these cores should result in a considerably faster CPU compared to all previous MediaTek SoCs and even faster than Huawei’s new Kirin 990, which features A76 cores. I’m curious to see what clock speeds MediaTek’s partners end up shipping itsCPUs at because only recently MediaTek was quoting 2.2 GHz on the 1000’s A77 cores, and now it’s quoting 2.6 GHz which is a pretty considerable difference in a few weeks’ time. That said, MediaTek is also shipping the latest ARM G77 GPU, which is also a generation newer and quite a bit faster than the G76 from last year, which Huawei is utilizing in the Kirin 990 as well.
Because MediaTek’s primary customers are OEMs shipping in China, the company must have a competitive solution with what Huawei is offering. Having 5G is a key component of that answer because, in China, 5G connectivity is quickly becoming a must-have feature. What’s interesting is that MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 chip appears to take all of the features of the company’s discrete M70 5G modem and integrate it into the SoC without compromises, unlike Huawei’s Kirin 990 5G. As such, MediaTek quotes a 4.7 Gbps downlink speed for its 5G modem, which I believe is an important point of differentiation because that means that MediaTek’s modem supports carrier aggregation and can use multiple 5G bands to increase download speed, while Huawei cannot.
The 5G modem in the Dimensity 1000 will support both NSA and SA 5G networks, which Huawei and Qualcomm do as well in its latest modems. Another critical feature to the Chinese market that Huawei includes with the Dimensity 1000 5G SoC is the ability to have dual 5G SIM support including support for VoNR. MediaTek did not quote any band support or carrier support; however, because MediaTek does not have its own RF Front-end solution, it may depend on the OEM implementation and power and performance will likely vary between the device to device. That said, I am very curious to see how much power MediaTek’s solution will consume compared to Huawei, Qualcomm, and Samsung on the same network with the same load.
AI and Imaging
MediaTek is also integrating a new AI processing unit in which it is calling the APU 3.0 (not to be confused with AMD APUs or auxiliary power units). MediaTek’s Dimensity chipset will also have the company’s latest ISP, which will support up to 80MP at 24 FPS or a range of multi-camera options, including dual cameras with 32 and 16 MP sensors. MediaTek says that its 3rdgeneration APU will also accelerate the camera and video with AI enhancements to HDR video, noise reduction, and auto white balance, among other features. Graphics and video capabilities on the Dimensity 1000 are also quite good with support for 2K+ resolutions at 90 Hz, and FullHD+ resolution at 120 Hz. These refresh rates are important because phones are starting to support refresh rates north of 60 Hz includes and higher refresh rates are quickly becoming the next race in display features. The Dimensity 1000 5G SoC also supports Google’s new AV1 video codec, which MediaTek claims to be the first SoC with hardware support. MediaTek also says that the Dimensity 1000 will ship with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1+ integrated as well, making it a fully-featured SoC. The company expects the Dimensity 1000 5G to ship in devices later this year and in early 2020, which should give us a good idea of what kind of devices will utilize this SoC. Additionally, MediaTek said that a version of this SoC might come without 5G integrated at a later date.
MediaTek is trying to crack into the high-end of the market with its first flagship 5G SoC. Many of the specifications of the Dimensity 1000 5G SoC scream high-end 5G SoC, and I believe that there’s a chance we could finally see it crack that $499 barrier. However, it remains to be seen how it will compete against whatever Qualcomm announces next month in Hawaii, which we know everyone is anticipating. I believe that MediaTek really wants to be able to compete with the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei and this might be its chance. It will ultimately come down to whether its customers can integrate its SoC in a way that squeezes the most out of the performance that the paper specifications claim. MediaTek did not provide any reference devices for testing or any final performance benchmark scores to compare against, but we will be able to find that out relatively soon if its dates are to be believed. That all said, I do believe that MediaTek’s CPU and GPU performance should be competitive enough to entice more OEMs to look its way, and its modem performance with support for only Sub-6GHz 5G is good enough for the majority of its customers. It may eventually come down to things like camera capabilities and final performance, and for that, we need to get some devices in hand and stat.