MediaTek announces the Dimensity 1000, a 7nm high-end SoC with integrated 5G
In May, ARM announced the next-generation ARM Cortex-A77 CPU architecture and the ARM Mali-G77 GPU with the Valhall architecture. Only a few days later, MediaTek surprised the chip industry by announcing its first 5G SoC. The SoC incorporated both the Cortex-A77 CPU and the Mali-G77 GPU. MediaTek disclosed that the chip would be manufactured on a 7nm process, but further details about the SoC remained unknown. Now, nearly six months after its early announcement, MediaTek is ready to fill in the blanks, including the name of the SoC. The MediaTek Dimensity 1000 is the first SoC in the 5G Dimensity series, and it aims to bring MediaTek back to the flagship SoC market.
The Dimensity name is intended to distinguish MediaTek’s 5G chip family from the Helio series of 4G SoCs. According to MediaTek, “Dimensity represents a step towards a new era of mobility – the fifth dimension – to spur industry innovation and let consumers unlock the possibilities of 5G connectivity”. The Dimensity 1000 SoC represents MediaTek’s return to the high-end SoC market, and it’s the company’s first flagship SoC since the Helio X30, which failed to find its way in most flagship phones in 2017.
According to MediaTek, the first Dimensity powered devices will arrive on the market in Q1 2020.
MediaTek Dimensity 1000 – CPU, GPU, and AI Processing Unit
The MediaTek Dimensity 1000 has an octa-core (4+4) CPU. It has four ARM Cortex-A77 “big” cores clocked at 2.6GHz, with four ARM Cortex-A55 “little” cores clocked at 2.0GHz. The core configuration of the SoC is interesting as it’s a 4+4 configuration, while Samsung and Huawei’s HiSilicon both have a 2+2+4 configuration in the Exynos 990 and the Kirin 990 respectively. On the other hand, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 has a 1+3+4 CPU core configuration. MediaTek has thus opted not to have any medium core as all four A77 cores will be clocked at 2.6GHz. The 2.6GHz clock speed is right on target for TSMC’s 7nm (N7) process, and coupled with the 20-35% IPC improvements of the A77 architecture, the CPU performance of the Dimensity 1000 should be on par with, or even better than its flagship competitors.
MediaTek is the first vendor to use ARM’s Mali-G77 GPU, which has also made its way to the upcoming Exynos 990. The Kirin 990 has the older Mali-G76. MediaTek is using a 9-core version of the Mali-G77 (Mali-G77MC9), while the Exynos 990 has an 11-core variant. The clock speeds of the GPU are currently unknown.
The company is also promoting its 3rd generation AI Processing Unit (APU/NPU) for on-device AI operations, which has more than double the performance of MediaTek’s previous APU. It has two big cores, three little cores, and one “tiny” core. MediaTek fully supports the NNAPI features while its competitors have incomplete support, which helps its position in AI benchmarks.
In terms of memory specifications, MediaTek SoC supports 4-channel LPDDR4X memory, with a maximum of up to 16GB RAM.
MediaTek Dimensity 1000 – Connectivity
The Dimensity 1000 has an integrated 5G modem, which gives it a leg up over the Snapdragon 855 and the Exynos 990. This brings it level with the Kirin 990 5G. Having an integrated 5G modem delivers “significant power savings compared to competing solutions”, according to MediaTek.
The chipset supports sub-6GHz 5G, while support for millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G is absent. This doesn’t matter as much as it seems because mmWave 5G is only a reality in the U.S. for now. (Japan and South Korea will also have mmWave 5G networks in 2020.) The Dimensity 1000 isn’t intended for such markets. The majority of the world’s markets have chosen to go with sub-6GHz 5G in the form of mid-band and low-band. MediaTek specifically notes that the Dimensity 1000 is designed for global sub-6GHz networks that are launching in Asia, North America, and Europe.
It also supports 5G two carrier aggregation (2CC CA), and is said to have “the world’s fastest throughput SoC with 4.7Gbps downlink and 2.5Gbps uplink speeds over sub-6GHz networks”. (This claim is incorrect as the Exynos 5G Modem 5123 – paired with the Exynos 990 – is rated for up to 5.1Gbps downlink on sub-6GHz networks.) It’s also said to have 2x the speed versus the Snapdragon 855 paired with Qualcomm’s X50 modem.
The chip supports stand alone (SA) and non-stand alone (NSA) sub-6GHz networks, and it includes multi-mode support for every cellular connectivity generation from 2G to 5G.
The Dimensity 1000 integrates the latest Wi-Fi 6 (2×2 802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1+ standards as well, that lets it offer more than 1Gbps throughput in both downlink and uplink speeds. The chip also has dual-band GPS (L1+L5 bands). For more information on why this feature is important, read this article.
Finally, this SoC is also said to have the world’s first dual 5G SIM technology, that comes in addition to support for services such as Voice over New Radio (VoNR). According to MediaTek, the chip’s integrated 5G modem delivers “extreme energy efficiency” and “is a more power efficient design than competing solutions”. This will let brands use the extra space for features such as a bigger battery or larger camera sensors, which sounds good. 5G carrier aggregation also lets the chip posts higher average speeds. It performs a seamless handover between two connection areas (high speed layer and coverage layer) for high speed connections.
MediaTek Dimensity 1000 – Camera and Graphics
The Dimensity 1000 has the world’s first five-core image signal processor (ISP) combined with MediaTek’s Imagiq+ technology. It supports 80MP camera sensors at 24fps along with a range of multi-camera options such as 32MP + 16MP dual cameras. The chip’s APU is said to support advanced AI-camera enhancements for autofocus, auto exposure, auto white balance, noise reduction, HDR and facial detection, along with another world-first claim for having a multi-frame HDR video capability.
As for displays, it has support for Full HD+ 1080p panels at up to 120Hz and 2K+ 1440p panels at up to 90Hz. It’s also the first mobile SoC to have decoding support for Google’s AV1 format up to 4K at 60fps in addition to having support for H264, HEVC, and VP9.
MediaTek’s return to the flagship SoC market
The last time MediaTek competed in the flagship SoC space, it didn’t end well. The company’s flagship Helio X10 and Helio X20 SoCs suffered from inferior performance and efficiency when compared with Qualcomm’s chips. The Helio X30 was made for 2017 flagships, but it only found its way to two phones. As MediaTek vacated the high-end space in 2018, competition in the SoC industry was reduced.
Now, with the Dimensity 1000, MediaTek is re-entering the fight. On paper, the chip seems to have everything it takes to compete with established competitors such as the upcoming Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G, and the Exynos 990. Device adoption is key, but if the Dimensity series takes off, competition will be back to normal. According to MediaTek’s President Joe Chen, MediaTek’s 5G technology goes head-to-head with anyone in the industry. We are interested to see if these claims play out in practice over the coming months.