Close
Report Comment to a Moderator Our Moderators review all comments for abusive and offensive language, and ensure comments are from Verified Users only.
Please report a comment only if you feel it requires our urgent attention.
I understand, report it. Cancel

Qualcomm: "We're never going to build a chip that's faster than a console"

Qualcomm: "We're never going to build a chip that's faster than a console"

Thu 31 Oct 2013 1:18pm GMT / 9:18am EDT / 6:18am PDT
MobileHardwareDevelopment

Mike Yuen calls for mobile devs to look beyond touch, and sees a bright future for Android-based big-screen gaming

The market-leading mobile chip manufacturer Qualcomm sees comparisons between the performance of consoles and smartphones as misleading - not only will smartphones never truly rival the power of a console, but mobile developers who place such importance on power may be investing their efforts in the wrong place.

Speaking to GamesIndustry International at the Unite conference in August, Qualcomm's Mike Yuen placed the progress the company has made with its Snapdragon 800 series processors in context. Phones and tablets featuring Qualcomm's 800 chips will start to hit the market this year, and they will be twice as fast as the now ubiquitous Snapdragon 600 series devices.

"The underlying technology will be there, but that doesn't mean that the games we create on mobile devices will necessarily be replications of console games"

However, Yuen, senior director of business development for Snapdragon Gaming, believes the ongoing debate comparing the performance of consoles to that of smartphones and tablets is misplaced. In terms of speed and power, the console companies will always have the upper hand.

"At some point there is a limit [for mobile devices]," Yuen says. "We're never going to build a chip that's faster than a console - in the truest sense."

The notion that smartphone and tablet technology could eventually surpass consoles has been seriously considered by a number of prominent figures in the games industry - most famously by id Software's John Carmack. But while Yuen believes that there will be processors in Snapdragon's 800 series that will be able to do, "anything you can do on Xbox 360" - and Qualcomm has spent $14 billion on R&D over the last five years to reach that point - concentrating on that aspect of hardware performance misses the unique strengths of a mobile platform.

"I think what's really interesting is that the underlying technology will be there, but that doesn't mean that the games and experiences and designs we create on mobile devices will necessarily be replications of console games," he says.

1

"The experiences will be different. The underlying technology will be there in hundreds of millions of devices, and that will increase each year. It's just that, as a developer, I don't think the intention is, 'I'm going to build a Blu-ray disc's worth of game on a mobile phone.' That just doesn't make sense."

Indeed, Yuen sees a great scope for progress in the way mobile games are designed, even on more rudimentary devices. The average modern smartphone or tablet has more inputs and features suitable for gameplay than perhaps any hardware in history, and yet the overwhelming majority of developers are focusing on touch alone.

"I hate to say it but, to a great extent, a lot of game development is a herd mentality - 'Let's go and make one like that'," says Yuen, who has worked for, founded, and served on the boards of numerous game developers in his 25 year career.

"There haven't really been games that showcase other inputs than touch. It's just a matter of time before something breaks through, but those things are harder to crack"

"There haven't really been games that showcase other inputs than touch. Cut The Rope, Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds - from a design perspective, there are examples where developers have really figured touch out. All those other things - whether it's sensors, gyros, voice, location, biometrics - we haven't seen that yet. It's just a matter of time before something breaks through, but those things are harder to crack."

However, as much as Yuen regards console and mobile as separate concerns, he is clear about Qualcomm's interest in supporting big-screen gaming through smartphones and tablets. Around half of all Snapdragon devices are based on 600 and 800 series chips, and when you consider that the 800 series has yet to even hit retail it gives a strong sense of where Qualcomm's priorities lie. Indeed, Yuen cites Snapdragon powered televisions as one of the key potential growth areas for the company over the next few years.

And Yuen has experience in that area - somewhat bitter experience, certainly, but experience nonetheless. In 2009, Yuen actually left Qualcomm to co-found Zeebo: a budget-priced 3G console, back by Qualcomm Ventures, aimed at emerging markets like those is Latin America and South East Asia. It was the evolution of a concept he been instrumental in developing while working at Qualcomm: in short, big-screen gaming on a television with nothing more than a phone and a controller.

Due to a lack of standardisation in the way smartphones could connect to TVs back in 2009, the focus of the concept necessarily shifted from a phone to a more conventional, console-style box. It was just one of many problems that Zeebo eventually faced, some of which were associated with how progressive the concept was for the time, and all of which Yuen declines to explain.

2

"The original idea was that you just carry your phone, and if you have a chip that's powerful enough just plug it in - with a Bluetooth game-pad or whatever - to the TV. And you could turn that over every one or two years with a new device and a new contract, and you just keep upping your power without the need for a box. There's a possibility of that happening in the future. That still hasn't happened yet.

"With Zeebo, we were early and maybe tapped the wrong markets, but it's interesting that all of these people are trying the same thing - whether they're console companies or a Chinese TV manufacturer."

Nevertheless, big-screen gaming through a mobile device remains a deceptively hard-sell for the mass audience. The end result is certainly a seductive prospect for casual gamers, but building the knowledge and confidence within that sort of consumer poses some very real challenges. It requires an understanding of these technologies that the vast majority of people who own them do not possess. For the most part, people are still happy to simply plug in a dedicated box or client - a belief shared by companies like Ouya and Gamestick. Using a mobile phone and Wifi may, in fact, be easier, but to the layperson it doesn't sound easier.

"I don't think it's very clear yet on how that's going to work," Yuen concedes, "but there's a bunch of themes and trends all pushing in that direction, and from every angle. Whether it will be this, or smart TV, or a box, there's just a lot of pushing towards getting games on a big screen with a gamepad.

"This idea of an Android-based console - whatever that ultimately looks like - it's coming. It may not fully disrupt the console business, but I don't think it's going away."

30 Comments

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,199 1,017 0.8
They already have, albeit older ones like the original Xbox.

But I'm glad to hear them say this even if it should be obvious the latest low power mobile chip is never going to match the latest wall powered, fan cooled console, not for another 5 year generation if not two...

Posted:A year ago

#1

Tosin Balogun Studying International Business, Anglia Ruskin University

23 21 0.9
Well just like Sedans will not replace Horse power Sport cars, mobile gaming will hold onto its own market while the consoles will feature technology beyond their years, even if we factor Moore's law into the equation. Also given the push towards stronger network ecosystem in the console spectrum, i think the core gamers will not shift from console to mobile anytime soon, not even their children too, if anything at all, i suspect the console makers would leverage their assets to tap from the casual audience in the mobile space

Posted:A year ago

#2

Alex Podverbny CTO & co-founder, FireVector LLC

9 6 0.7
That's kinda funny they basically admitting that laws of physics can't be broken :)
I mean, desktop/console CPU/GPU consuming many-any-watts of power will obviously outperform any mobile CPU/GPU, always.
And all that talks about 'mobile surpassing consoles' tends to be clever shmarketing BS comparing graphics of some $500-smartphone with original xbox or something like that.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Justin Biddle Software Developer

163 493 3.0
Popular Comment
That loud thump you just heard was Bruce passing out

Posted:A year ago

#4

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Snapdragon 800 is current.
The ARM cores as used in Qualcomm processors are evolving far faster than Moore's law.
Cortex-A53 ships next year and uses v8 architecture which is a huge step up from the v7 in the 800. ARM have an ongoing roadmap that continues this impetus, seeing the A57 core going into phones and tablets.
More here: http://www.arm.com/products/processors/cortex-a50/cortex-a57-processor.php
If Qualcomm don't make new SOCs using new ARM cores then Nvidia will.

The consoles are a fixed target with their processors remaining unchanged for the next 7ish years. Tablets will very easily overtake them well before this time is up.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

184 204 1.1
Popular Comment
I think they will run into diminishing returns soon, there's only so much computing the average joe needs to do on his smartphone. Soon we'll have a situation where any smartphone chip on the market is fast enough for its tasks, where screen resolutions will no longer increase, and the only way to actually utilize the surplus power is through 3D games. Which, as a consequence, will need way higher production values to utilize the power, and will draw a lot of battery juice as well. Given how relatively little influence 3D graphic quality have on the success of a mobile game, I'd call this scenario unlikely.

The more likely case is that future advances will improve efficiency rather than performance.
Of course, they still have these pesky laws of physics to deal with if they want to outperform console hardware...

Posted:A year ago

#6

Justin Biddle Software Developer

163 493 3.0
Popular Comment
Got to love how Bruce knows better about chip capabilities than the lead manufacturer of the chips

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 31st October 2013 2:49pm

Posted:A year ago

#7

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Justin Biddle

There is no way that any processor manufacturer is committing what their products will be for the next 7 years.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Justin Biddle Software Developer

163 493 3.0
Popular Comment
But they just did. And beyond. They used the word "never". You go on about console developers having their head in the sand. The very people who make the chips you claim have/will catch up with the upcoming gen console chips have said they never truly will. That's not twisting some survey to suit my argument. It's not using a biased report from the console industry. It's not making assumptions that aren't stated. It's the pure cold undeniable fact that the company that leads in mobile chip manufacture have said it will not happen. What demented marketing technique do you think they're using to tell the world they'll be less powerful than some think they will be?

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 31st October 2013 3:03pm

Posted:A year ago

#9

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,613 1,475 0.9
The more likely case is that future advances will improve efficiency rather than performance.
Indeed... People talk about casual gamers, and how the phone is a gateway into gaming (be it casual or core), but this ignores other aspects of phones, most especially battery life. It's already one of the most important factors in choosing a phone, and many products out there have awful battery life statistics. My S3 can barely make it a day when I'm browsing, checking Twitter and reading comics; play games on it? Pah! If I had the time I certainly wouldn't be able to make it last. And this ignores the draw that other apps take (some are shocking). Why chase after bigger/better/faster, when all it does is antagonise consumers who find their phone dying at the end of a night out?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 31st October 2013 3:18pm

Posted:A year ago

#10

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Justin Biddle

Then I suggest that the article doesn't accurately portray what was intended.
Most likely he means that a current generation mobile chip will never be faster than a console chip at the launch time of that console. This would make sense because a static console can handle more electrical power. But the GFLOPS per watt curve means that the mobile processor will catch up before 7 years are up.
Some interesting reading: http://www.hpcwire.com/hpcwire/2012-07-26/the_2012_performance_per_watt_wars.html

Posted:A year ago

#11

Justin Biddle Software Developer

163 493 3.0
Popular Comment
I'm sorry. I'm not going to argue anymore. I'm amazed how much you can't accept the word from the horse's mouth. I can't see how the following can mean anything else

"At some point there is a limit [for mobile devices]," Yuen says. "We're never going to build a chip that's faster than a console - in the truest sense."

But hey. Whatever makes you happy.

P.S. Just to make clear, in no way am I taking from the above statement that mobile can't be anything other than huge. Neither am I taking it as proof that consoles will go on loud and strong. That would be twisting what they said to my own end.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 31st October 2013 3:28pm

Posted:A year ago

#12

Pier Castonguay Programmer

189 106 0.6
That's kinda granted. Also why I never really liked this mobile-centered fade these last few years. High-tech desktop chips for PC will always be what I'll be using for gaming.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pier Castonguay on 31st October 2013 3:31pm

Posted:A year ago

#13

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

420 1,000 2.4
it has to do with power usage and cooling as much as anything else. I just purchased a gaming rig the other day. For the top cpus water cooling systems work the best, along with fans all over for the powerful new gen of video cards, and you need a min of 600 watt power supply. A phone i s never going to be able to compete with computer gaming, and/or even to a lesser extent consoles.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Todd Weidner.

I utterly despair.
Did you not read?:
This would make sense because a static console can handle more electrical power. But the GFLOPS per watt curve means that the mobile processor will catch up before 7 years are up.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,199 1,017 0.8
The ARM cores as used in Qualcomm processors are evolving far faster than Moore's law.
The consoles are a fixed target with their processors remaining unchanged for the next 7ish years. Tablets will very easily overtake them well before this time is up.
It will have taken 8 years since the launch of the Geforce 8800GTX for Nvidia to produce a Tegra they claim to be greater than or equal to in terms of performance. Even then, I'm not 100% convinced it will be flop for flop, until more comparable performance metrics come out.

Given the orders of magnitude we're talking about, I'm not sure if mobile devices can catch up with Xbox One let alone PS4 within the generation. Even if devices of this form factor can, they're more likely to be something other than a phone or a tablet and even more expensive and on a different achitecture.

There must be a very good reason why chip manufacturers themselves are saying that mobile devices are not matching consoles any time soon. They can one day but its a question of when...

Posted:A year ago

#16

Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven

85 12 0.1
I just like to add I always look forward to Bruce's comments on this matter even though most of us don't agree with him.

If they make something like a vita that can call and receive/send sms I guess at some point there will be phones that can nearly match the performance of consoles not too many years after their launch.
The price of the mobile device would probably be way higher than the price of that console.

or y'know, battery-powered consoles that can call...

edit: Ah, Adam was faster but this is also what I was trying to say.
Given the orders of magnitude we're talking about, I'm not sure if mobile devices can catch up with Xbox One let alone PS4 within the generation. Even if devices of this form factor can, they're more likely to be something other than a phone or a tablet and even more expensive and on a different achitecture.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Michael Vandendriessche on 31st October 2013 5:01pm

Posted:A year ago

#17

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend

270 618 2.3
Bruce back to his best I see. :D

Posted:A year ago

#18

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@ Adam Campbell

Have you looked at the AMD Hierofalcon SOC, available Q2 '14.
Although not initially intended for tablets, this is where mobile devices are headed in the very near future.
With eight 64 bit A-57 cores running at 2 GHz this has genuine horsepower.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

420 1,000 2.4
This would make sense because a static console can handle more electrical power. But the GFLOPS per watt curve means that the mobile processor will catch up before 7 years are up.
Even if true , which personally I highly doubt, you still have the cooling issue. Also in and at the end of that time frame, mobile phone tech will still be no closer to catching PC desktop gaming. It will always be light years behind. And final point, if in 7 years mobile phone computing did finally approach the capabilities of a by then obsolete console generations, so what? at that time an entire new generation of consoles will be coming online to once again leap frog mobile phone tech and capabilities by a good 5+ years.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 31st October 2013 8:44pm

Posted:A year ago

#20

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,488 1.1
Bruce, do you realize that is a 15 to 30 watt chip? You can't put that in a phone. You can't even put it in a tablet.

Those chips are for data centers and server networks.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,199 1,017 0.8
Have you looked at the AMD Hierofalcon SOC, available Q2 '14.
Yes.
Although not initially intended for tablets, this is where mobile devices are headed in the very near future.
With eight 64 bit A-57 cores running at 2 GHz this has genuine horsepower.
I told someone a while back, it would take around 16 iPad 3's to match a 2006 GPU (alone) in terms of raw power. Around 8 iPad 4's and looking at recent history about 5 iPad Airs. The comparison isn't going to be 1:1 but you start to understand the sheer levels of computing power involved here.

If the iPad on the bleeding edge of chips doubles in power next year and again the year after, it may almost match a 2006 GPU in terms of pure processing performance in 2015, but not quite. It wouldn't be until 2016 it would actually exceed it.

If it doubles the following year and again the next year and again the year after, its well exceeded the 2006 GPU but it hasn't reached a 'next gen' console.

I'd estimate based on raw theoretical performance figures (which would be lower in the real world for a tablet and lower still considering the performance may be the CPU + GPU), that it would take a device around 16x as powerful as the current iPad Air to match a 1.84 Teraflop GPU in the PS4, an insanely parallel piece of processing architecture.

To match that performance with the same battery life and power consumption as now, we're looking at a chip 16x smaller and more efficient than a 28nm Apple A7.

Its mind boggling to think how much of a journey it would take to go from a 32Gflop iPad last year, to something that reaches around 2 Teraflops within 1 console generation with the limits of around 4w peak in a mobile device and the physical limitations of silicon and the level to which manufacturing processes are expected to get smaller... We haven't even covered areas like the speed and bandwidth offered by mobile DDR2 vs GDDR5 and other types of memory, space for other dedicated hardware technologies and many little details absent from comparison.

Even if my rough estimations based on public information were off by a considerable percent, it still wouldn't favour mobiles matching or exceeding next gen consoles any time soon, based on the mathematical limitations and incredible scale of architecture involved.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 31st October 2013 8:21pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

Eyal Teler Programmer

93 98 1.1
I think that it's clear from the end of the article that Mike Yuen does believe in Android consoles and the idea of hooking a phone to a TV and controller for a console experience, he just doesn't think the market is there yet.

Mobile may never catch up to consoles in terms of power, but it doesn't matter. Consoles are much weaker than high end PC's, yet they survive well in that form. Current gen consoles (360, PS3) were as powerful as (or more than) high end PC's of the time, yet next gen are decidedly middling. There's a point were things are good enough, and mobile will get there, and it won't take too long.

I think he's missing some points. One is that powerful mobile devices make it easier for developers to create cross platform games. Another is that special functionality is nice for some innovative gaming (like with Kinect on the Xbox), but will never replace core gaming, which for mobile is touch based.

All in all, I think that if people could buy a tablet with an Airmont based Atom coupled with NVIDIA's next gen mobile GPU core and 4GB of RAM, hook that wirelessly to a TV or monitor and play on it using a controller, they'd love to do that. People are already testing Bay Trail tablets with all kinds of games, because they love the idea of being able to take their games with them (and Bay Trail can run quite a few games nicely even though it's not very powerful). So the technology is already near to satisfy the basic needs of gamers, it's just not there yet, and this particular combination (Intel + NVIDIA) is unfortunately not that likely.

Posted:A year ago

#23
iOS devices have made gains largely due to throwing more gates at the graphics problem, the latest has 4 GPU cores. This is unsustainable from a power management point of view, the leakage current from the device alone will be enough to burn your hand. Throwing more gates at a GPU regardless if its a desktop or mobile device is a no win game in the end.

But there is a bit of reprieve for mobile devices, the current screen resolutions are at retina resolutions so the number of GPU's needed to meet the fill requirements seems adequate with the current generation, now all they have to deal with is ability to churn more complex fragments out which can be solved at a with adding more fragment units... at much lower cost in gates than another GPU.

Throwing more CPU cores at a mobile device doesn't seem like an effective use of gates either, two cores is a good number for most machines. The OS may need access to a core and the foreground context needs one or 2 cores for the complexity of the tasks one would expect. Since the natural state for most processes is to be in the sleep state both cores would be offline most of the time. Just run "top" out on any desktop machine to find out its sitting around doing nothing most of the time, even heavily tasked you will find its only pegged one CPU.

Posted:A year ago

#24

Nick Parker Consultant

299 176 0.6
After all this, what about the best UI gamers want? Horses for courses as ever.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports

96 87 0.9
This is of course foolishly assuming the next console generation is going to last 7 years. I'm not sure many people are going to argue that this generation of consoles didn't last too long and the last couple of years didn't really hurt.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,158 1,222 1.1
It's not just about finding a means to dissipate the heat of the chips without the device catching fire, but also having a battery that can provide enough power over a reasonable timespan.

Watts per power can be a tricky metric, due to different degrees of semiconductor technology out there. Between x86 and ARM architectures, you got anything between 22nm and 48nm, which will make a huge difference in how the chip behaves in a battery environment. The true test of ARM will come once Intel decides to really get into low TDP processors specifically designed for mobile devices, not just i-core tech pruned to fit into an ultrabook.

Posted:A year ago

#27

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
By the time mobile processor "catch up" to console or PC, in 7 years newer faster better consoles will come out. And logic tells me you can always pack more in a bigger space than a small one. Consoles will also find ways to integrate with newer technologies such as network and mobile technologies. Already we are seeing more mobile and social integration. I dont see were console relevance is dissapearing anytime soon.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 4th November 2013 11:17am

Posted:A year ago

#28

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,488 1.1
To me it's simple physics. A combination of size, power draw and thermal dissipation.

One is small and runs on a battery. The other is bulky and pulls from the wall.

Anybody that thinks they are equitable in power (even on a 7 year fixed versus dynamic scale) needs remedial physics lessons.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

836 669 0.8
@Bruce
There is no way that any processor manufacturer is committing what their products will be for the next 7 years.
And that is because It's not necessary since this guys know that this consoles will be able to run games 7 or 8 years ahead of now, and you know this too. But if you still want to insist in thing like...
The consoles are a fixed target with their processors remaining unchanged for the next 7ish years. Tablets will very easily overtake them well before this time is up.
...Just remember that this applies to PC too (their technology overtaking consoles), and I'm still waiting for a mobile game that can give the experience I find in a PC or console game. In fact! I'm still waiting to see a mobile game that surpasses a game like Skyrim on consoles.
"The underlying technology will be there, but that doesn't mean that the games we create on mobile devices will necessarily be replications of console games"
Because they know that they point to a different cortumer base. Smart words there.

Sidenote: Anybody here (Bruce Specially, you were in Codemasters, dude!) cares about games and user experince? I don't care if I have the NSA smartphones if all I can play are Pay-2-Win clones of Angry Birds.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 4th November 2013 7:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#30

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now