Several improvements have been added to the recently announced X30, the semiconductor process technology, CPU architecture, multimedia functionality and connectivity functions. The processor is the company’s first product built on 10nm semiconductor process technology.

The SoC boasts enhanced performance and power efficiency over the previous generation Helio X20/X25 built on 20nm technology. Depending on when end products ship, the X30 could be the first 10nm smartphone SoC from TSMC commercially available. Samsung manufactures its own Exynos 8895 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 on its 10nm FinFET technology. MediaTek expects smartphones using the X30 to be available this year.

What’s inside X30?

The X30 is designed to achieve the balance of performance and power efficiency possible through the continued use of a tri-cluster, deca-core CPU architecture. This design ensures the processing intensive tasks will utilise an ARM Cortex A73 dual core cluster clocked at a maximum of 2.5GHz, while a second quad-core cluster of 2.2GHz ARM Cortex 53 cores will efficiently tackle medium performance tasks, leaving a third quad-core cluster of 1.9GHz ARM Cortex 35 cores to handle tasks with optimal power efficiency. In the previous generation, both of the quad core clusters are clocked faster while the frequency of the dual core cluster remains the same.

The GPU in the X30 is the 7XTP by Imagination Technologies, the same company Apple uses for their A-series processors. The use of Imagination’s GPU technology is a shift from the previous generation products which used ARM’s Mali GPUs. Other multimedia features include an Imagiq 2.0 vision processing unit (VPU) which offloads camera specific tasks from the CPU and GPU to achieve reduced power consumption. The SoC also offers a standalone Hi-Fi audio codec, 10-bit H.265 video decoding and 4Kx2K video recording/playback at 30fps.

The X30 has an improved modem, sporting Cat10 LTE for 450Mbps on the downlink using 3xCA with 150Mbps on the upload. It is also a world mode modem that work on an expanded set of wireless operators compared to other suppliers like Samsung and Spreadtrum, who thus far lack CDMA support in their modems. For Wi-Fi it can be paired with an external 2x2 802.11ac chip that also supports Bluetooth, FM, GPS, Glonass, Beidou and ANT+. On the RF front, MediaTek is leveraging a single RF chip design and second generation envelop tracking and smart antenna technology.

Despite all of the aforementioned enhancements and features that may be found in some of the flagship smartphones currently available, it may be challenging for the X30 to address smartphones with significantly higher ASPs than those which included the X20 or X25 of the previous generation.

The Cat10 modem places the product well behind Qualcomm’s premium focused Cat12/13 Snapdragon 820 which launched in devices in the first quarter of last year as well as the Cat12/13 Samsung Exynos 8890 found in the Galaxy S7 last year. Cat16 will be found in premium tier flagship smartphones released in 2017. The modem may become an important differentiator for devices in 2017 as more network operators move closer to offering gigabit speeds.

Though the X30 will likely address the same higher-end mid-range smartphone markets which were the focus of the X20/X25, its enhancements may make for a more compelling product in those segments of the market relative to the rest of the competition.

Get more product details from MediaTek's announcement.

Brad Shaffer is Senior Analyst with market research firm, IHS Markit.