Business Model Based on Partnerships
|Alexandru Voica works for Imagination Technologies. His background includes research in computer graphics at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa and a brief stint as a CPU engineer, working on several high-profile 32-bit processors used in many mobile and embedded devices today. You can follow Alex on Twitter @alexvoica.|
Some months ago my colleague Rys Sommefeldt wrote an article offering his (deeply) technical perspective on how a chip gets made, from R&D to manufacturing. While his bildungsroman production covers a lot of the engineering details behind silicon production, it is light on the business side of things; and that is a good thing because it gives me opportunity to steal some of his spotlight!
This article will give you a breakdown of the IP licensing model, describing the major players and the relationships between them. It is not designed to be a complete guide by any means and some parts might already sound familiar, but I hope it is a comprehensive overview that can be used by anyone who is new to product manufacturing in general.
The diagram below offers an analysis of the main categories of companies involved in the semiconductor food chain. Although I’m going to attempt to paint a broad picture, I will mainly offer examples based on the ecosystem formed around Imagination (since that is what I know best).
A simplified view of the manufacturing chain
Let’s work our way from left to right.
Traditionally, these are the companies that design and sell silicon IP. ARM and Imagination Technologies are perhaps the most renowned for their sub-brands: Cortex CPU + Mali GPU and MIPS CPU + PowerVR GPU, respectively.
Given the rapid evolution of the semiconductor market, such companies continue to evolve their business models beyond point solutions to become one-stop shops that offer more than for a wide variety of IP cores and platforms, comprising CPUs, graphics, video, connectivity, cloud software and more.
Qualcomm’s GPU History
Despite its market dominance, Qualcomm may be one of the least known contenders in the battle for the mobile space. While players like Apple, Samsung, and even NVIDIA are often cited as the most exciting and most revolutionary, none come close to the sheer sales, breadth of technology, and market share that Qualcomm occupies. Brands like Krait and Snapdragon have helped push the company into the top 3 semiconductor companies in the world, following only Intel and Samsung.
Founded in July 1985, seven industry veterans came together in the den of Dr. Irwin Jacobs’ San Diego home to discuss an idea. They wanted to build “Quality Communications” (thus the name Qualcomm) and outlined a plan that evolved into one of the telecommunications industry’s great start-up success stories.
Though Qualcomm sold its own handset business to Kyocera in 1999, many of today’s most popular mobile devices are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile chipsets with integrated CPU, GPU, DSP, multimedia CODECs, power management, baseband logic and more. In fact the typical “chipset” from Qualcomm encompasses up to 20 different chips of different functions besides just the main application processor. If you are an owner of a Galaxy Note 4, Motorola Droid Turbo, Nexus 6, or Samsung Galaxy S5, then you are most likely a user of one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets.
Qualcomm’s GPU History
Before 2006, the mobile GPU as we know it today was largely unnecessary. Feature phones and “dumb” phones were still the large majority of the market with smartphones and mobile tablets still in the early stages of development. At this point all the visual data being presented on the screen, whether on a small monochrome screen or with the color of a PDA, was being drawn through a software renderer running on traditional CPU cores.
But by 2007, the first fixed-function, OpenGL ES 1.0 class of GPUs started shipping in mobile devices. These dedicated graphics processors were originally focused on drawing and updating the user interface on smartphones and personal data devices. Eventually these graphics units were used for what would be considered the most basic gaming tasks.
Subject: Systems | April 20, 2015 - 06:00 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows, SoC, mini-pc, Intel, ECS, Bay Trail-M
When Sebastian reviewed the LIVA X he focused on the performance of the device as an HTPC running Ubuntu ... before attempting to determine its effectiveness in creating a peanut butter and banana omelette, but that is a different story.
Overclocker's Club took a different tack, examining how it would perform for light gaming duties. On default settings the LIVA X managed 517 in Sky Diver, 1198 in Cloud Gate, 14200 in Ice Storm, and 9598 in Ice Storm Extreme. This would make it effective at playing mobile games or even playing through legacy games available through GoG or the Internet Archive; they tested CivV as a more modern title and while playable it wasn't great. Check out the full review for the other benchmark results.
"The ECS LIVA X surprised me with its small size and completely silent operation. I was able to surf the internet and do work on it very quickly. I enjoyed using it and experienced no problems with browsing the internet, using Office applications, or watching streaming videos on Netflix. Amazon Prime would occasionally lag a little – usually when the HUD would pop up."
Here are some more Systems articles from around the web:
- Get Your Old Rig Gaming Ready on a Tight Budget @ eTeknix
- Intel NUC 5I3RYH (DinoPC) @ Kitguru
- OcUK Ultima Finesse Blackhole Gaming PC @ Kitguru
Subject: General Tech | March 21, 2015 - 12:09 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, Semiconductor, Samsung, process node, nvidia, gpu, fab
Want to liven up your weekend? Forget college basketball, we all know that few things are more exciting than SEC filings - and oh boy do we have a great read for you! (OK, this one is actually interesting!)
Ah, legal documents...
NVIDIA has disclosed in their latest 10-K filing that none other than Samsung is manufacturing some of the company’s chips. TSMC has been the source of GPUs for both AMD and NVIDIA for some time, but this filing (the full document is available from the SEC website) has a very interesting mention of the suppliers of their silicon under the “Manufacturing” section:
"We utilize industry-leading suppliers, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, to produce our semiconductor wafers."
Back in December NVIDIA commented on its lawsuit against Samsung for alleged IP theft, which only makes this partnership seem more unlikely. However even Apple (which has their own famous legal history with Samsung, of course) has relied on Samsung for some of the production of their A-series SoCs, including the current crop of A8 chips. Business is business, and Samsung Foundry has been a reliable source of silicon for multiple manufacturers - particularly during times when TSMC has struggled to meet demand at smaller process nodes.
Samsung's Current Semiconductor Offering
It is unclear at this point whether the wafers produced by Samsung Semiconductor are for NVIDIA’s mobile parts exclusively, or if any of the desktop GPUs were produced there rather than at TSMC. The partnership could also be attributed simply to scale, just as Apple has augmented A8 SoC supply with their rival’s fab while primarily relying on TSMC. It will be interesting to see just how pervasive the chips produced by Samsung are within the NVIDIA lineup, and what future products might be manufactured with their newest 14nm FinFET process technology.
Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2015 - 02:01 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SoC, smartphones, Samsung, MWC 2015, MWC, Galaxy S6 Edge, galaxy s6, Exynos 7420, 14nm
Samsung has announced the new Galaxy S phones at MWC, and the new S6 and S6 Edge should be in line with what you were expecting if you’ve followed recent rumors.
The new Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge (Image credit: Android Central)
As expected we no longer see a Qualcomm SoC powering the new phones, and as the rumors had indicated Samsung opted instead for their own Exynos 7 Octa mobile AP. The Exynos SoC’s have previously been in international versions of Samsung’s mobile devices, but they have apparently ramped up production to meet the demands of the US market as well. There is an interesting twist here, however.
The Exynos 7420 powering both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is an 8-core SoC with ARM’s big.LITTLE design, combining four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. Having announced 14nm FinFET mobile AP production earlier in February the possibility of the S6 launching with this new part was interesting, as the current process tech is 20nm HKMG for the Exynos 7. However a switch to this new process so soon before the official announcement seemed unlikely as large-scale 14nm FinFET production was just unveiled on February 16. Regardless, AnandTech is reporting that the new part will indeed be produced using this new 14nm process technology, and this gives Samsung an industry-first for a mobile SoC with the launch of the S6/S6 Edge.
GSM Arena has specs of the Galaxy S6 posted, and here’s a brief overview:
- Display: 5.1” Super AMOLED, QHD resolution (1440 x 2560, ~577 ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
- OS: Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop) - TouchWiz UI
- Chipset: Exynos 7420
- CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
- GPU: Mali-T760
- Storage/RAM: 32/64/128 GB, 3 GB RAM
- Camera: (Primary) 16 MP, 3456 x 4608, optical image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash
- Battery: 2550 mAh (non-removable)
The new phones both feature attractive styling with metal and glass construction and Gorilla Glass 4 sandwiching the frame, giving each phone a glass back.
The back of the new Galaxy S6 (Image credit: Android Central)
The guys at Android Central (source) had some pre-release time with the phones and have a full preview and hands-on video up on their site. The new phones will be released worldwide on April 10, and no specifics on pricing have been announced.
Subject: Processors | January 18, 2015 - 05:16 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SoC, rumor, processor, leak, iris pro, Intel, graphics, cpu, carrizo, APU, amd
A new report of leaked benchmarks paints a very interesting picture of the upcoming AMD Carrizo mobile APU.
Image credit: SiSoftware
Announced as strictly mobile parts, Carrizo is based on the next generation Excavator core and features what AMD is calling one of their biggest ever jumps in efficiency. Now alleged leaked benchmarks are showing significant performance gains as well, with numbers that should elevate the IGP dominance of AMD's APUs.
Image credit: WCCFtech
"The A10 7850K scores around 270 Mpix/s while Intel’s HD5200 Iris Pro scores a more modest 200 Mpix/s. Carriso scores here over 600 Mpix/s which suggests that Carrizo is more than twice as fast as Kaveri and three times faster than Iris Pro. To put this into perspective this is what an R7 265 graphics card scores, a card that offers the same graphics performance inside the Playstation 4."
While the idea of desktop APUs with greatly improved graphics and higher efficency is tantalizing, AMD has made it clear that these will be mobile-only parts at launch. When asked by Anandtech, AMD had this to say about the possibility of a desktop variant:
“With regards to your specific question, we expect Carrizo will be seen in BGA form factor desktops designs from our OEM partners. The Carrizo project was focused on thermally constrained form factors, which is where you'll see the big differences in performance and other experiences that consumers value.”
The new mobile APU will be manufactured with the same 28nm process as Kaveri, with power consumption up to 35W for the Carrizo down to a maximum of 15W for the ultra-mobile Carrizo-L parts.
Introduction, Specs, and First Impressions
In our review of the original LIVA mini-PC we found it to be an interesting product, but it was difficult to identify a specific use-case for it; a common problem with the mini-PC market. Could the tiny Windows-capable machine be a real desktop replacement? That first LIVA just wasn't there yet. The Intel Bay Trail-M SoC was outmatched when playing 1080p Flash video content and system performance was a little sluggish overall in Windows 8.1, which wasn't aided by the limitation of 2GB RAM. (Performance was better overall with Ubuntu.) The price made it tempting but it was too underpowered as one's only PC - though a capable machine for many tasks.
Fast forward to today, when the updated version has arrived on my desk. The updated LIVA has a cool new name - the “X” - and the mini computer's case has more style than before (very important!). Perhaps more importantly, the X boasts upgraded internals as well. Could this new LIVA be the one to replace a desktop for productivity and multimedia? Is this the moment we see the mini-PC come into its own? There’s only one way to find out. But first, I have to take it out of the box.
Chipset: Intel® Bay Trail-M/Bay Trail-I SOC
Memory: DDR3L 2GB/4GB
Expansion Slot: 1 x mSATA for SSD
Storage: eMMC 64GB/32GB
Audio: HD Audio Subsystem by Realtek ALC283
LAN: Realtek RTL8111G Gigabit Fast Ethernet Controller
USB: 1 x USB3.0 Port, 2 x USB2.0 Ports
Video Output: 1 x HDMI Port, 1 x VGA Port
Wireless: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n & Bluetooth 4.0
PCB Size: 115 x 75 mm
Dimension: 135 x 83 x 40 mm
VESA Support: 75mm / 100mm
Adapter Input: AC 100-240V, Output: DC 12V / 3A
OS Support: Linux based OS, Windows 7 (via mSATA SSD) Windows 8/8.1
Thanks to ECS for providing the LIVA X for review!
Packaging and Contents
The LIVA X arrives in a smaller box than its predecessor, and one with a satin finish cuz it's extra fancy.
Subject: General Tech | January 11, 2015 - 03:08 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: wearables, SoC, smartwatch, Intel, ces 2015, CES, arm
Wearable tech shown at this year's CES by Intel included the Intel MICA and Basis PEAK wearables, but a blog post from ARM is reporting that a pair of these devices are powered by an ARM SoC.
The Intel MICA (Image credit: Intel)
ARM has posted pictures of teardowns from different wearable products, highlighting their presence in these new devices. The pictures we have taken from ARM's blog post show that it is not Intel at the heart of the two particular models we have listed below.
First is the Basis PEAK, and it actually makes a lot of sense that this product would have an ARM SoC considering Intel's aquisition of Basis occurred late in 2014, likely after the development of the PEAK had been completed.
The Basis PEAK (Image credits: Basis, ARM)
Of course it is likely that Intel has plans to integrate their own mobile chips into future versions of wearable products like the PEAK.
Of some interest however is the SoC within their own MICA luxury wearable.
The Intel MICA (Image credits: Intel, ARM)
For now, ARM is the industry standard for mobile devices and they are quick to point this out in their their blog post, writing "it’s important to remember that only ARM and its partners can meet the diversity requirements and fuel innovation in this space". Intel seems to be playing the "partner" role for now, though not exclusively as the company's mobile technology is powering the newest ASUS ZenFone, for instance.
Subject: Processors | January 5, 2015 - 07:30 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: SoC, low power, Intel, Cherry Trail, cell phones, ces 2015, CES, Bay Trail, 14 nm trigate, tablets
It wouldn’t be CES if there wasn’t an Intel release. Today they are releasing their latest 14 nm Cherry Trail SOC. Very little information has been released about this part, but it is the follow-up to the fairly successful Bay Trail. That particular part was a second generation 22 nm part that exhibited very good power and performance characteristics for the price. While Bay Trail was not as popular as Intel had hoped for, it did have some impressive design wins in multiple market sectors.
The next generation process technology from Intel will improve power and performance for the Cherry Trail parts as compared to previous products. It will work in both Windows and Android environments. While Cherry Trail is x86, Intel has been working very closely with Google to get Android to work effectively and quickly with a non-ARM based ISA.
Intel is shipping these parts to their partners for integration into phones, tablets, and small form factor computers. We had previously seen Bay Trail parts integrated into low cost motherboards with the J1800 and J1900 SKUs from Intel. We can expect these products to be refreshed with the latest Cherry Trail products that are being released today.
There is very little information being provided by Intel about the nuts and bolts of the Cherry Trail products. Intel promises to release more information once their partners start announcing individual products. We know that these parts will have improved graphics performance and will exist in the same TDPs as previous Bay Trail products. Other than that, feeds and speeds are a big question for this latest generation part.
These products will be integrating Intel’s RealSense technology. Password-less security, gestures, and 3D camera recognition are all aspects of this technology. I am sure we will get more information on how this technology leverages the power of the CPU cores and GPU cores in the latest Cherry Trail SOCs.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Systems | December 10, 2014 - 03:03 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SoC, mini-pc, LIVA, Intel, ECS, Bay Trail
A new, more powerful ECS mini-PC has been reported by The Tech Report, and this latest iteration of the LIVA will be known as the "X".
The LIVA X features a faster 2.25GHz dual-core CPU from its Bay Trail SoC, and maximum configurable memory has been doubled to 4GB. OS support has been revised as well, with Windows 7 supported - but only when using an mSATA SSD. The LIVA X still offers full Windows 8.1 support, along with beta Linux driver support as before.
The LIVA X also offers one more USB 2.0 port than its predecessor, along with the same 32GB or 64GB eMMC storage onboard, Gigabit Ethernet, and included 802.11 wireless N card.
The LIVA proved to be a good value when we reviewed it, though it was underpowered for some desktop tasks. Adding another 2GB of memory as well as a slightly faster CPU will make this new version a very interesting product, depending on price. The new LIVA X hasn't shown up for sale just yet in the usual places, but the product page is up on the ECS site.