Chipset giant MediaTek has unveiled its new flagship smartphone chipset, the Dimensity 9000 - and it’s the company’s first that boasts specs likely to match the upcoming update from its big rival Qualcomm.

On paper, the Dimensity 9000 is a top-tier System on Chip (SoC) in every respect. It’s the first smartphone chip to be manufactured on a 4nm process – with production handled by TSMC – and uses the latest generation Armv9 CPU and GPU components, themselves only revealed in May this year.

At the heart of the Dimensity 9000 is a single Cortex-X2, clocked at 3.05GHz. It’s flanked by three A710 cores at 2.85GHz, with a further four A510 efficiency cores. That CPU setup is paired with a Mali-G710 GPU, and support for LPDDR5X RAM – a type of RAM so recent that Samsung only announced the very first modules last week.

There are a few other firsts. Support for camera sensors up to 320Mp is more theoretical than practical for now, but the ability to simultaneously capture 18-bit HDR video from three lenses is likely to be put into practice as soon as possible by phone manufacturers.

As for connectivity, Bluetooth 5.3 makes its smartphone debut here. It’s joined by Bluetooth LE Audio, Wi-Fi 6E, and of course 5G support. The Dimensity 9000 will also be able to power displays with up to 180Hz refresh rates at Full HD. 

Smartphone gamers will also love the news that this is the first chip to support ray-tracing on Android, thanks to a new SDK based on Vulkan. Ray-tracing is the graphical tech popularised by Nvidia, and only recently available on gaming PCs and consoles, which allows real-time tracking of light sources within games.

Competition for Qualcomm

All of this sounds impressive, but what really matters is how it shakes up to rivals. Historically MediaTek has competed most strongly at the lower end of the market, but in recent years that’s changed as the company built up a portfolio of more powerful chips that have begun to appear widely in mid-range phones like the OnePlus Nord 2, and even a few high-end devices like the Vivo X70.

Its previous flagship – the Dimensity 1200 – was never a real match for Qualcomm’s top-tier Snapdragon 888 in terms of pure performance, but that looks set to change now.

We don’t yet know what Qualcomm has planned for its next premium Snapdragon – known online as the Snapdragon 898, but recently rumoured to be called the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 – but leaks so far point to a very similar spec sheet to MediaTek’s.

If that’s the case, then for the first time Qualcomm will have a serious fight on its hands at the top-end of the market. MediaTek’s success will likely come down to whether it can offer its chip for cheaper than the Snapdragon, or beat Qualcomm on manufacturing timetables amidst the industry’s ongoing chip challenges - though it'll also have to prove it can overcome the established brand power of Snapdragon, which carries weight among phone enthusiasts, if not the mainstream public.

The first clue to MediaTek’s success will obviously be once we see phones announced using the Dimensity 9000. Major upcoming flagship launches like the Xiaomi 12 and Samsung Galaxy S22 are already widely expected to use the new Snapdragon silicon, so it’ll be interesting to see which Android flagships make the jump to MediaTek – and when.