Mobile is the only business besides PCs where actual SoCs
get a lot of visibility in the eyes of the end customer. Does Joe Doe care
what’s inside his MP3 player or car infotainment system? No, not as long as it’s doing its
job. But when it comes to his smartphone or a tablet, his awareness of the chip
inside is much higher.
It’s good for the business, because this awareness helps IP
providers promote solutions that are little marvels of engineering and take
time to develop. It keeps the business going, as we know the customers will ask
for a next-gen solution in no more than a year. This drives revenue growth, because nothing is
worth more than a slight competitive edge that secures a big win in the market.
It’s also bad for the business, because only a few companies
can keep up with the pace of this race. Also, the money involved is high, so you
want to place your bets carefully. And last but not least, you’re developing
technology that is silicon-proven by you and is production-proven also by you –
this pressure does not help either.
Like it or not, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and
cheers to that, as this keeps us going. What developers need to make sure of is
that they are choosing their silicon path wisely and that the available IP fits
their tight design schedules.
According to TSMC, their 28nm technology “delivers twice the
gate density of the 40nm process and also features an SRAM cell size shrink of
50 percent”. Moreover, the 28HPM process (High Performance Mobile) “can provide
better speed than 28HP and similar leakage power as 28LP.”
Qualcomm, among several other fabless companies, is already
aboard this node with its latest Snapdragon processors that are hitting the
consumer market right now inside Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra
smartphones. It is only a matter of time until other companies announce the
availability of SoCs in this node.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - the latest device powered by the Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 in 28HPM
(Photo credit: Samsung)
Leading IP providers are now releasing more and more 28HPM
targeted IP, with Cadence offering USB, DDR, and PCIe PHY IP for this node. The maturity of tools and the fact it’s all
been silicon-proven make it a safe bet for risk-averse customers.
Given all this information, what’s in it for an SoC
developer? Basically, everything. It’s accepted by the major players in the mobile space, the tools and IP is there, and there
are enough benefits of the technology to make the investment and see how it
comes back with orders for chips.
And like with everything, there is always a certain
timeframe for when it’s good to do something. With FinFET, or even 20nm just
around the corner, the perfect time for a 28nm mobile SoC is now!