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Spreadtrum Launches First x86 Chip

March 21, 2017

Author: Linley Gwennap

More than two years after signing a deal to co-develop mobile processors with Intel, Spreadtrum announced the first fruit of that agreement. The SC9861G-IA (the IA stands for Intel Architecture) is the Chinese company’s first x86 processor. Sporting eight CPU cores based on Intel’s Airmont microarchitecture, it’s also Spreadtrum’s most powerful processor. Intel builds the chip in its 14nm LP process, which provides leading-edge transistor speed and power. Spreadtrum expects the 9861 to enter production soon and appear in phones by June.

The SC9861 is similar to the SC9860, which features eight Cortex-A53 CPUs and which entered production in 4Q16. The new chip replaces the ARM CPUs with Intel’s Airmont core, which clocks at 2.0GHz in that company’s 14nm process. Complementing the CPUs is a PowerVR GT7200 GPU. This GPU employs the same architecture as the GT7600 in Apple’s A9 processor (iPhone 6s), but it has only two clusters instead of six.

The chip includes a high-end video engine that can handle 4K-resolution files. The ISP is designed for a back camera of up to 26Mpixels or dual back cameras of 13Mpixels each. The 9861 doesn’t use Intel’s LTE modem, instead integrating a Spreadtrum design. This design implements LTE Category 7 with 300Mbps on the downlink and 100Mbps on the uplink.

The new processor arrives at an auspicious time, as Spreadtrum’s parent company is preparing a public offering. Spreadtrum, having absorbed RDA Microelectronics, is the crown jewel of Tsinghua Unigroup. Although the Chinese government owns a majority stake in Unigroup, Intel owns 20% of the shares; private investors hold the remainder. The IPO will probably occur this fall on the Shanghai stock exchange. Potential investors are likely to be excited by the 9861, which expands Spreadtrum’s available market.

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