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After Apple, mobile readies big push to 64-bit

2014-04-21 17:53:35 

With Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. dropping a big hint this week that it has either started or is getting ready to start production of 64-bit mobile processors, let's take a quick look at what the major players have said and done so far.

"If you observe the mobile device industry, in the past six months we do see the...conversion to 64-bit [in processors] after the Apple [64-bit A7 processor] announcement," Mark Liu, co-CEO of TSMC, said at a conference on Thursday after TSMC announced its first-quarter results.

If TSMC, the world's largest contract chip manufacturer, sees a shift to 64-bit, then you can bet it's going to happen because it will be manufacturing many of those chips.

TSMC makes processors for Qualcomm, Nvidia, and even Intel (it's making Intel's first-gen SoFIA processor), among others. And TSMC is rumored (I'd say it's likely) to participate in production Apple's next-gen 64-bit processors.

So, as we wait for the 64-bit version of Android (which some claim is Android 5), let's review what the major chip suppliers have said so far. (Remember, Apple is the only company actually shipping a 64-bit processor in consumer mobile products today.)

Intel: Intel 64-bit Bay Trail processors are inside tablets today, like the HP ElitePad 1000 G2. And it isn't just waiting around for Android to go 64-bit. It's already offering a 64-bit kernel for Android KitKat 4.4. Intel's phone chips, such as those that go by the code name of Merrifield, will be 64-bit later this year.

Samsung: "Our chip will be ready whenever the operating systems and ecosystem go 64-bit," Kyushik Hong, vice president of marketing for Samsung's system LSI business, told CNET at Mobile World Congress in February. Samsung believes its 64-bit chips will be ready sometime this year.

Qualcomm: In the wake of the Apple's 64-bit A7, the mobile chip giant announced a host of 64-bit processors, the most recent being the Snapdragon 810 and 808 products. But these are only announcements of 64-bit technology; the actual chips won't ship in large commercial volumes until the first half of 2015.

Nvidia: A version of the Tegra K1 will be 64-bit. It is expected to ship later this year.

MediaTek: The MT6752 platform will be commercially available in the third quarter of this year, with mass production in Q4.

So, what does 64-bit get you? In addition to the ability to address more memory, 64-bit allows data-intensive applications to handle large chunks of data more efficiently than 32-bit. To date, ARM has aimed 64-bit chips at servers, not smartphones. Why? Because servers can benefit immediately in a big way -- for the reasons stated above.

And it's worth mentioning that we know Apple's 64-bit A7 is fast. Though that performance is not pegged necessarily to the 64-bit aspect of the architecture, it allows Apple to aspire (with future processors) to desktop-class performance as developers write more 64-bit apps.