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Linley on Mobile

Marvell Debuts Tricore Architecture, ARM A15 Goes for the Jugular, Icera Upgrades 3G Processor, New Report Explains 3G/4G Market

September 23, 2010
Volume: 2, Issue: 10

Author: Jag Bolaria, Joseph Byrne

In This Issue


The Linley Group's new report Mobile and Wireless Semiconductor Market Forecast 2009-2014 will soon be available for shipment. This report provides revenue and unit forecasts for several types of mobile and wireless chips and IP. For more information, access our web site.


Marvell Debuts Tricore Architecture

Today, Marvell announced the industry's first mobile processor with three CPU cores for running application software. The Armada 628 provides two 1.5GHz Sheeva CPUs plus a smaller, power-optimized Sheeva CPU. To maximize battery life, the processor uses the smaller CPU most of the time, but it can shift to the powerful dual CPUs when maximum performance is required. The new Marvell processor is currently sampling and due to enter production next March.

The dual CPUs use Marvell's PJ4 design, an ARM-compatible CPU capable of executing two instructions per cycle. Unlike previous versions of the PJ4, the new chip is fully compatible with ARM's Neon instruction set. The third CPU also uses the PJ4 design, but in this case the synthesizable core uses a different circuit layout optimized for lower speed (624MHz) and lower power. Using the same architecture allows applications to move transparently between the dual CPUs and the small CPU.

In addition to its three application CPUs, the Armada 628 provides a complete set of multimedia accelerators that are more powerful than any other mobile device. The 40nm chip can handle not just one but two 1080p Blu-ray video streams at once, allowing it to perform functions such as picture-in-picture, 3D video, and videoconferencing, all in full HD. The chip offers more than four times the 3D-graphics performance of the current Armada 610, putting the new chip ahead of industry leader Tegra 2.

The Armada 628 is an impressive application processor that should match up against Qualcomm's dual-Scorpion processors and outrun any 40nm Cortex-A9 product. The third CPU is an innovative feature that should deliver better battery life than a dual-CPU processor that simply shuts down one CPU. The new Armada chip is well suited to both tablet computers and high-end smartphones. Marvell's ability to deliver it so quickly after the single-CPU Armada 610 bodes well for the company's prospects in the mobile market. —Linley

Additional coverage of Marvell's Armada application processors appears in our report A Guide to Mobile Processors.


ARM A15 Goes for the Jugular

Earlier this month, ARM announced the availability of its new Cortex-A15 (code name: Eagle) CPU for new design starts. ARM's startling claim of a 5x performance gain for the A15 comes from comparing the A15 to a Cortex-A8 (not the current Cortex-A9), comparing a dual CPU configuration to a single CPU, and comparing a 28nm design to a 45nm design.

In a 28nm G pro¬cess, the A15 (soft core) is to operate at 2.5GHz. Its speed drops to 1.5GHz for 28nm LP designs, making it 50% faster than current Cortex-A9 designs built in 45nm LP technology. New features include virtualization support (a first for a licensable core), an upgraded Neon SIMD unit, physical address extensions, and coherence via the AXI bus. The latter features will help ARM expand into wireless base stations and other networking and communications infrastructure.

The A15 will also appear in mobile devices, but we expect it to coexist with the A9, providing a higher-speed alternative. The aim here is to strangle Intel's attempts to move into mobile devices by blocking the high end of that market. The processor should be well suited to larger devices such as tablet computers as well as to high-end smartphones.

Texas Instruments is the lead customer for the A15. We expect the company to build a dual A15 into its next-generation OMAP5 processor, which is due to sample next year. ARM has provided little information to validate its aggressive performance claims, but the A15 aims to bring a new level of performance to mobile devices, blurring the line between handheld and netbook performance. —Joe

More details on the Cortex-A15 architecture will be disclosed at the Linley Tech Processor Conference on September 27-28.


Icera Upgrades 3G Processor

One of the smallest cellular-baseband suppliers, Icera focuses on cellular modems, a market in which it is gaining share. This week, the company announced its third-generation product, the ICE8060, which provides an immediate boost to HSPA+ data rates of 28Mbps and a roadmap to 42Mbps next year. The new processor is already sampling and due to enter production later this year.

Like the previous ICE8040, the ICE8060 is based on a programmable architecture that the company calls DXP. For the new chip, Icera doubled the performance of its engine by adding a scalar core, offloading protocol processing from the vector core, and by raising the DXP's clock speed from 950MHz to 1.4GHz. This performance improvement not only enables very high data rates, it also allows the chip to operate at lower clock speeds for more common data rates, thereby reducing power. A move from 65nm for the ICE8040 to 40nm for the ICE8060 offers further power savings.

Although Qualcomm already supports 42Mbps with its MDM8220, which recently entered production, few operators support this data rate. For other operators, the ICE8060 offers a lower-cost alternative to Qualcomm's products. This cost advantage will help Icera expand its small share in cellular modems, a market that we forecast will exceed 200 million units in 2014. This growth should drive Icera to profitability within the next year. —Linley

Complete coverage of the ICE8060 appears in our new report A Guide to 3G/4G Wireless Chips.


New Report Explains 3G/4G Market

Cellular technology continues to advance rapidly. The first commercial LTE service is now available in some Nordic cities, and both NTT (Japan) and Verizon (U.S.) will launch LTE service soon. To vie for these designs, both large and small chip vendors have developed working LTE products using a variety of architectures. In the 3G domain, shipments of TD-SCDMA devices to China Mobile are on pace to grow 6× in 2010, attracting the attention of leading processor vendors to this technology. Advances in air interfaces are being matched by increasing CPU and multimedia capabilities in cellular processors that target smartphones. Some of these highly integrated devices include dual CPUs, 1080p video, and high-performance 3D graphics.

Although the pace of vendor consolidation has slowed, supplier turnover continues. Intel shook up the market with its acquisition of Infineon's wireless business; the world's largest semiconductor vendor brings new resources to the cellular market. Renesas acquired Nokia's baseband technology and is planning a major thrust into the LTE market. Broadcom is finally accumulating market share, while market leaders Qualcomm and MediaTek also grow. The race is on to see how Nokia will split up its purchases among its new suppliers.

A Guide to 3G/4G Wireless Chips explains how to navigate this turmoil to choose the right processor for your design. We go under the hood to examine UMTS and LTE baseband processors that target basic phones, feature phones, smartphones, and cellular modems. The report provides in-depth coverage of Qualcomm's UMTS and LTE processors in the MSM, MDM, and QSC families; ST-Ericsson's converged product lineup, including the low-cost PNX processors and the U5500 and U8500 for smartphones; MediaTek's UMTS and TD-SCDMA chips; Infineon's X-Gold product line; Marvell's new Pantheon series; and Broadcom's Cellairity platform. We also cover UMTS and LTE baseband processors from smaller suppliers such as Altair, Beceem, Icera, Renesas, Sequans, Spreadtrum, and Wavesat. This edition also includes both final 2009 market share and preliminary 2010 market share.

Whether you are looking for an innovative solution for your design, a vendor to partner with, or a rising company to invest in, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Get the inside scoop on this major market. Order A Guide to 3G/4G Wireless Chips today. Order by Oct. 22 to get the introductory price.