Over the past two years, smartphone and tablet chips haven’t just reached parity with laptops — mobile AI and image cores are now responsible for gathering and processing massive quantities of user data at the network’s edge. Today, MediaTek is announcing its latest high-end 5G system-on-chip for mobile devices — Dimensity 1200 — with a heavy emphasis on “flagship AI multimedia” features, along with the Dimensity 1100 as a smaller step up from 2019’s Dimensity 1000. The new chips are both significant for technical decision makers because they will raise the performance bar for affordable Android devices, including models from some of the world’s most popular brands.

Though Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 and Apple’s A14 Bionic are the most powerful mobile application processors, MediaTek’s smartphone chips actually outsold Qualcomm’s last quarter, thanks to a greater emphasis on midrange offerings. Dimensity 1200 is partially playing catch-up with rival flagship chips, boasting a five-core imaging signal processor that can capture up to 200-megapixel photos and staggered sensor HDR videos, as well as an updated six-core APU 3.0 AI processor with 12.5% higher performance than its predecessor. By comparison, Dimensity 1100 is capped at 108-megapixel photos and uses the slower prior-generation APU 3.0 AI processor.

Collectively, the new processors leverage machine learning to create nighttime panorama and multi-person bokeh photos, as well as AI-powered upscaling of standard color videos to HDR — just a few examples of real-time data analysis that wouldn’t have been possible with prior-generation AI chips. MediaTek credits an enhanced multi-task scheduler with improving the AI cores’ power efficiency and latency. Dimensity 1200 also supports ultra-high screen refresh rates of up to 168Hz — 144Hz in Dimensity 1100 — at FHD+ resolutions, while both promise the same 90Hz at higher QHD+ resolutions.

Each chip packs a nine-core ARM G77 GPU, up from eight cores in rival platforms, and includes some basic ray tracing functionality for games and apps. Beyond synthetic Manhattan 3.0 benchmark peaks at 130fps and 120fps, respectively, MediaTek says the chips have enough horsepower to run Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds at 90fps on the Dimensity 1200, and with HDR enabled at 60fps on the Dimensity 1100.

Both chips have eight CPU cores, but in different arrays: Dimensity 1200 leads with one 3.0GHz ARM Cortex-A78 core — faster at least in clock frequency than the 2.84GHz Cortex-X1 in the Snapdragon 888 while promising a 22% CPU performance gain over the Dimensity 1000 — with the ability to fall back on three 2.6GHz A78 cores and four 2.0GHz A55 cores. The 1100 chip omits the 3GHz core and instead has four 2.6GHz Cortex-A78s and four 2GHz A55s.

Since chip fabricator TSMC’s 5-nanometer production lines are fully booked, Dimensity 1200 and 1100 are built on a 6-nanometer process. That reduces their transistor size compared with the 7-nanometer Dimensity 1000, but falls behind the cutting-edge 5-nanometer process used by the Snapdragon 888 and Apple A14 Bionic to further shrink and improve energy efficiency.

On the wireless front, the new Dimensity chips both use MediaTek’s prior-generation 5G modem, which supports sub-6GHz frequencies but not millimeter wave — a limitation compared with Snapdragon-based solutions. They’re also limited to Wi-Fi 6 at a time when faster Wi-Fi 6E routers are beginning to become available. But both chips do support the latest version of Bluetooth, known as Bluetooth 5.2, promising improvements in both power consumption and data latency.

Dimensity 1200 and 1100 will begin to appear in Android devices by March 2021. While the system-on-chip solutions will predominantly appear in phones and tablets, MediaTek hints that it will have additional news pertinent to 5G industrial IoT, telematics, 5G broadband, and traditional PCs in the not-too-distant future.

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