Motorola has traditionally used ARM chips designed by other companies. Motorola simply chose the chip best suited to its devices and bought them. With the newly announced Droid devices on Verizon, Motorola is doing things differently with some custom silicon. The Motorola X8 is a custom ARM system-on-a-chip (SoC) that the company is calling an 8-core Mobile Computing System designed for Android.
The X8 enables always-on technologies for Google Now and could be hugely important in Android devices going forward. With Google backing Motorola’s efforts, it could even affect how Android itself is developed.
What is the X8?
Motorola has stressed at every juncture that the X8 is an octa-core chip, but it isn’t even an eight-core chip in the meager way the Exynos 5 Octa is. The Motorola X8’s basic configuration includes two CPUs, four GPU cores, and two additional low-power cores for always-on technologies. By the unspoken rules of processor naming, this is a dual-core chip. We don’t usually count GPU cores or co-processors when determining how to refer to a particular SoC. If we did, the Tegra 4 would be a 77-core chip.
What’s interesting about the design of the standard components is where Motorola went for the intellectual property. Most companies that want a piece of custom silicon for a mobile device go straight to ARM to license the Cortex application processor, then pair that with a Mali or PowerVR GPU. Not Motorola — Google’s new subsidiary went to Qualcomm to get a piece of the Krait ARM-compatible architecture.
Qualcomm licenses the ARM instruction set, but designs its own CPU cores for the Snapdragon SoC. Motorola refused to say who is manufacturing the chip, but it seems likely Qualcomm itself is behind the process. It’s unlikely the company would license Krait technology to another chip maker. The two Krait cores (of the type used in the S4 Pro line) in the Motorola X8 are clocked at 1.7GHz.
Motorola says the four GPU cores are running at 400MHz, delivering a 3.2 million pixel fill rate with 16 shader units. Those specs with the associated Krait CPUs indicate that the GPU is an Adreno 320, which lines up with previous leaks which named a dual-core MSM8960T variant as the chip being used in Motorola’s upcoming Android devices. The X8 looks to be very similar to that chip, but there’s the matter of that custom silicon.
The two final cores in Moto’s questionable eight-count are a local natural language processor (L-NLP) and a contextual computing processor (CCP). From a purely hardware perspective, these might not be separate cores in the most accurate sense. Rather, we may be looking at two sides of the same coin — an always-on sensor hub that runs in an always-on state with components to listen for audio cues and organize data.
The CCP is billed as adept at processing sensor data from the device and using it in the always-on display features of the new Motorola handsets. L-NLP monitors the microphone input, noise cancellation, and runs speech recognition to make the phone a hands-free device.
It all comes down to this — you say “Okay Google Now,” and the phone will listen to you even if it’s locked and asleep. It’s neat, but that’s not all.