MediaTek’s Flagship Dimensity 9000 SoC Isn’t The Company’s Only Interesting New Chip

MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 chip for flagship smartphones. MEDIATEK

Last month, MediaTek, at its Executive Summit in Laguna Beach, CA, announced its first foray into the flagship smartphone SoC market: the Dimensity 9000. The company’s first 4nm chip from TSMC features a multitude of flagship-worthy features that make it competitive with what’s already available in the market today. The company didn’t stop there, though. It also announced major partnerships with Micron and AMD and something that looks a lot like a flagship TV SoC. Let’s take a closer look.

Dimensity 9000

The event definitely centered around the Dimensity 9000 5G SoC announcement, which makes sense given mobile is still MediaTek’s largest business and this is its first true flagship SoC. If you follow MediaTek closely, you might be wondering about the big jump in nomenclature from the company’s  last SoC, the Dimensity 1200, to the new Dimensity 9000. The answer MediaTek gave me was deceptively simple—the company wanted to make it abundantly clear that this SoC exists above all the others that came before it. 

This leap in performance starts with the Dimensity 9000’s 4nm process node, TSMC’s latest and greatest thus far. As far as specs go, it ticks all the boxes. It features the latest Arm v9 architecture CPU designs, including one Cortex X2 core at 3.05 GHz, three Cortex A710 cores running at 2.85 GHz and four Cortex A510 cores running at 1.8 GHz. Through a close partnership with Micron, the Dimensity 9000 is also the first mobile SoC to support 4-channel LPDDR5x 7500 Mbps, a 36% increase in bandwidth over the Dimensity 1200’s 5500 Mbps LPDDR5x and a 20% reduction in latency. It also features Arm’s latest Mali G710 GPU, whose 10 cores could come in handy for gaming applications (though it seems that the GPU still throttles considerably under load). In addition to its CPU, GPU and memory support, the Dimensity 9000 feature MediaTek’s own 5th generation AI processing unit (or APU, as the company refers to it). According to MediaTek, the 5th gen APU increases both the SoC’s performance and power efficiency by a whopping 400% over the previous generation. MediaTek also credits the Dimensity 9000’s APU for the 16% higher score the SoC received on the AI ETHZ v4 benchmarks over Google’s Tensor SoC. 

MediaTek also completely revamped its ISP with a triple-core engine that supports up to 32MP per ISP and a maximum total pipeline capability of 320 MP image capture. I think a lot of people missed the significance of this new ISP design due to its similarities to Qualcomm’s triple ISP design in the Snapdragon 888. MediaTek’s ISP claims considerably more gigapixel throughput, to the tune of 9 Gigapixels per second. While an ISP’s Gigapixel rating isn’t necessarily a measure of its quality, it does set the bar for how much data it can handle. This is double the rating of MediaTek’s previous Imagiq Gen 6 ISP and considerably higher than any of the competition. The new ISP design is likely how the company can simultaneously claim 18-bit video HDR and support for up to 270 frames per second. 

The Dimensity 9000’s new 5G modem supports 3GPP Rel.16 features as well as 3x CA (3 x 100 MHz) Sub 6. MediaTek claims that the 3x CA in Sub6 5G enables the Dimensity 9000 to reach a maximum theoretical throughput of 7 Gbps. While this modem does not support mmWave, MediaTek plans to  introduce an mmWave modem inside its premium tier of SoCs in 2022 (likely within the Dimensity 1000 family). MediaTek will likely target these SoCs towards the US market to satisfy OEMs that want to ship on Verizon and support mmWave at a lower price point. MediaTek is also integrating support for Wi-Fi 6E, the latest Bluetooth 5.3 and virtually all global positioning constellations in the Dimensity 9000. This means that we are likely to see the Dimensity 9000 in OEMs that don’t ship in the US, unless that OEM is okay with skipping Verizon (who essentially makes mmWave 5G support a requirement for its 5G phones). I expect that we will see the Dimensity 9000 in devices from many of the usual suspects that are already using the Dimensity 1200—companies like OnePlus, Oppo, Poco, Realme, Vivo and Xiaomi. That said, it remains to be seen how high up their device stacks the Dimensity 9000 will go.

Filogic 130/A and 330P

In addition to the Dimensity 9000 announcement, MediaTek also announced several new Wi-Fi chipsets: the Filogic 130/130A and the 330P Wi-Fi 6 SoC for client devices. Optimized for a multitude of IoT devices, the Filogic 130A offers Wi-Fi 6 connectivity with a 1×1 antenna and integrated front-end module support. The classic Filogic 130 has all the same capabilities of the Filogic 130A, but without the audio DSP for always-on audio for voice assistants and the like. Both chipsets also support Bluetooth 5.2. The company’s Wi-Fi 6E offering, the 330P, features a maximum throughput of 2.4 Gbps. The biggest Filogic announcement from the event actually relates to the Filogic 330P. The chipset forms the basis of MediaTek’s new partnership with AMD, and is utilized in the Wi-Fi 6E platforms the two companies have codeveloped for AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series OEMs. 

These two platforms, the RZ616 and RZ608, both look very similar in terms of specs, except for the fact that the RZ616 has 160 MHz channel bandwidth support while the RZ608 only has 80 MHz (effectively halving its peak theoretical speed). This partnership is quite a big deal for both companies—it gives MediaTek an opportunity to ship product in the PC space and it gives AMD yet another partner in the Wi-Fi space to compete with Intel’s home-grown Wi-Fi solutions. While AMD was already a lead partner for Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900 series, this appears to be targeted towards more mainstream Ryzen solutions rather than the highest end. 

MediaTek also shared that it expects to be one of the first adopters of Wi-Fi 7, and plans to keep pace with the competition whenever the standard is finalized (hopefully around 2023).

Pentonic 2000

MediaTek’s smart TV chipset business is arguably one of its strongest sectors outside of smartphones. The company has reportedly shipped over 100M TVs with MediaTek chipsets over this past year, which join the two billion smart TVs already powered by the company. These numbers, plus MediaTek’s 70% market share in the segment, all point to a fairly dominant position for the company. Against this backdrop, the introduction of a flagship TV SoC, the Pentonic 2000, makes a lot of sense. 

The Pentonic 2000 SoC utilizes four of Arm’s A76 CPU cores at 2 GHz and Arm’s G57 MC3 GPU on TSMC’s extremely mature 7nm process node. For context, this is the same node that AMD uses for most of its CPUs and GPUs and what Sony and Microsoft use in the majority of their consoles. MediaTek designed the new Pentonic 2000 to deliver 8K resolution at 120 Hz. While todays TVs are incapable of delivering such an experience (they currently support no higher than 4K at 120Hz), the inclusion of this technology enable 8K resolution at 120Hz on future TVs. The MediaTek Pentonic 2000 also features AI upscaling to bring 4K and FHD content up to 8K, along with both HDR and Color Boost Engines to improve picture quality. The chip also supports Dolby Vision IQ, four Dolby Vision Streams at 4K 60Hz and gaming in Dolby Vision up to 4K 120Hz.

MediaTek, much like the rest of the industry, leans on AI image processing to improve noise, compression artifacts and more. What I find the most interesting is that MediaTek will support both Wi-Fi 6E and 5G connectivity in the Pentonic 2000 chip. This means that there will be some MediaTek-powered TVs that only run on 5G connectivity. While this 5G use case, as a concept, isn’t new, it could very well become a reality once fixed wireless access (FWA) 5G arrives. While it may be a few more years until 5G coverage reaches that point, there’s a possibility that these TVs could serve as the entertainment hub for users in the future that have never had access to internet-based TV services or high quality streaming services.

Wrapping up

MediaTek has clearly been working diligently across its product segments to bring competitive solutions to market. While it may be some time before we see these new chipsets inside products from MediaTek’s customers, the company is driving serious growth and looking increasingly competitive in multiple segments. I am genuinely excited to get my hands on a device powered by the Dimensity 9000 or Pentonic 2000, or even a PC born out of its partnership with AMD.