ST-Ericsson, the company that promised us a dual core 2.5 Ghz Cortex A15 with PowerVR Series 6 GPU for 2013, seems to have forgotten about its promise, and will instead launch a quad core 3 Ghz Ghz Cortex A9 chip, with integrated LTE-Advanced, by the end of this year. The chip will be demo-ed at MWC next week and will be called the NovaThor L858.
I don’t think ST-Ericsson has been winning a lot of designs lately, and that may have had an impact on their R&D lab, too, which could be why they aren’t launching the SoC with the brand new Cortex A15 CPU and the brand new PowerVR Series6 GPU. That’s a bit ironic considering they chose the new PowerVR Series6 GPU thinking it would ship earlier than ARM’s new Mali T600 chips. yet the Mali T604 arrived first, and Mali T624 would probably arrive earlier, too, if they had chosen it.
What’s even more puzzling is their decision to just overclock Cortex A9 as much as up to 3 Ghz on a 28nm process, instead of going with Cortex A15. A 3 Ghz Cortex A9 should in theory be about as powerful as a 2.1 Ghz Cortex A15. However, quad core Cortex A9 chips have already been bottlenecked by memory bandwidth, and overclocking them sounds like it will make the matters worse. Not to mention that they get little marketing benefit from coming to market with an old CPU and an old GPU.
Speaking of old GPU’s, it will use a PowerVR SGX544 with a clock speed of 600 Mhz, but we don’t know how many cores it will have. It’s very likely to have only one, or two at most. That won’t be sufficient either for a high-end chip in 2013, even when disregarding its lack of support for OpenGL ES 3.0 and OpenCL (something that also applies to Tegra 4, unfortunately).
Surprisingly, the only piece of tech in this chip that seems cutting edge is the LTE-Advanced modem, that goes up to 150 Mbps, just like the Broadcom one, and supports up to 17 different bands. This should ensure support for virtually every LTE frequency out there, that is used by carriers.
Still, I remain of the opinion that this whole chip won’t help ST-Ericsson much, unless they compete on price, and for the mid-end market. I doubt it would even pose much of a threat to Tegra 4, but it would still be preferable to say a dual-core Atom. Expect to see the NovaThor L858 at MWC in a few days.