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Freescale’s Richard warns of bad PC habits creeping into mobile

by Scott Bicheno on 17 February 2011, 11:38

Tags: Freescale

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Mores haste, less speed

Henri Richard - sales and marketing SVP at embedded chip-maker Freescale and former head of marketing at AMD (pictured) - is as well positioned as anyone in the world to assess the transition currently happening in tech from PCs to mobile devices. So when he warns against repeating the mistakes of the PC industry, it's worth paying attention.

While you have to allow for an agenda when interviewing any professional, that doesn't mean they don't have a point. Speaking to mobile-device.biz at Mobile World Congress 2011, Richard revealed a sense of déjà vu when looking at some of the latest mobile chip launches.

"I'm seeing some of the bad habits of the PC industry creeping into application processors," said Richard, referring to rising clock speeds and core counts. "This is not necessarily a good strategy, especially if more cores don't improve the end experience. We're not about technology for technology's sake; the race is different from the PC space."

Richard remembers what it was like trying to compete with Intel when he was at AMD, and how counter-productive a preoccupation with speeds and feeds can be. Also, while on the desktop energy efficiency is a relatively minor concern, once you get into mobile devices it's paramount. Even if all the cores in an SoC are fully utilized, which often isn't the case, you still have to ask whether a resulting increase in power required is worth it.

Another contrast Richard reflected on between the two industries is competition. "I left AMD because I thought embedded was the future and PCs the past," he said. "Also the Wintel paradigm left little profit for anyone else."

Richard reflected on there being a much more healthy competitive environment in the embedded space, which companies competing on the strength of their products, rather than marketing hyperbole. "I can have dinner with a competitor now," he said, remembering how vitriolic the relationship between AMD, Intel and NVIDIA used to be.

Freescale has a strong heritage in the automotive and industrial embedded markets, but it's not doing to bad in mobile either. While you won't find a Freescale application processor in any of the high-end smartphones launched at MWC this week, it's the dominant player in e-readers - including Amazon's Kindle - with its i.MX5 series SoCs.

We asked how Freescale has managed to do so well in e-readers. "We were there early, executed properly, and had a clear e-reader roadmap," said Richard. "And we have best in class power consumption."

Having warned of the perils of ramping the core-count for the sake of it, Richard did reveal Freescale's next generation of high-end SoC - the i.MX 6 series - does have four ARM Cortex A9 cores and will start appearing in devices this year.

Asked why Freescale doesn't do more to bring attention to its chips in high-profile mobile devices such as the Kindle, Richard explained that OEMs are wary of letting the chip become the story. "Embedded customers have seen what happened in the PC industry," he said.

Incidentally, when we asked about rumours linking him with the vacant AMD CEO position, Richard just laughed. We don't think he's interested.




Click for more from MWC 2011

Click for more from MWC 2011


HEXUS Forums :: 2 Comments

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While I definitely appreciate having faster speeds/more cores etc etc, and perhaps I wouldn't accept a trade-off with power/performance until the power starts sapping the battery life quicker than I can cope between charges (i.e. 12-24hrs, depending on use), I definitely think there'd be a market for a slower CPU that uses new technologies to achieve significantly greater battery life than its faster brethren. Unfortunately I suspect most of the battery life goes on the screen, and not the CPU..
The whole point of having multi-core processors in mobiles is to aid battery life…