A recent study from IC Insights found that in 2013 apps processors for smartphones and tablets accounted for 31% of total microprocessor sales, up from 26% in 2012. Companies competing in the mobile arena are well positioned to become the main driving force behind the fast growth of the overall semiconductor industry.

When building chipsets for mobile, silicon vendors often rely on licensing processors from Imagination Technologies. This business model enables our partners to build innovative application processors that power the smartphones and tablets we all use on a daily basis.

Mobile computing - Imagination IP licensing business model Imagination Technologies: a business model based on partnerships

Part of what makes Imagination unique among IP providers is the diversity of our product portfolio. We can offer our partners many of the key functions that make up a typical mobile processor, where most of the functionality of a smartphone or tablet is integrated on-chip to optimize performance, power and area (PPA) efficiency. This level of system integration has already happened for general processors, graphics, and some simple imaging or video. We are now seeing comprehensive multi-standard connectivity and advanced vision processing all being included on the same SoC.

The diagram below explains our vision for the future of 32 and 64-bit mobile processors. Our customers can mix and match the components below to create innovative, highly differentiated platforms that set the bar on performance and functionality.

Mobile computing apps processor - Imagination IP mobile SoCAn example of the internal architecture for mobile SoCs

For partners looking to build cutting-edge apps processors for mobile, we offer a great range of SoC technologies:

  • General purpose processors: MIPS I-class and P-class CPUs sit at the heart of any apps processor providing unmatched performance for general purpose processing in a much smaller power and area envelope compared to other solutions.
  • Graphics and GPU compute: All our PowerVR Rogue GPUs support the latest graphics and compute standards. From the smallest, half-cluster graphics processors aimed at very affordable devices to multi-cluster, high-end GPUs designed for the ultimate flagship platforms, we are enabling the best possible multimedia and gaming user experience delivered at industry-leading PPA efficiency.
  • Video decoding and encoding: Our range of PowerVR multi-standard video processors provides highly-scalable solutions for up to 4K resolutions and beyond at 10-bit color depth in an ultra-low power profile.
  • Imaging: The advanced processing pipelines of the PowerVR V2500 ISP work with any CMOS sensor and offer the highest quality images possible with minimal noise.
  • Connectivity: Extremely configurable, Ensigma allows our partners to choose whatever combination of wireless standards they need; alternatively, Ensigma RPUs come pre-packaged in combo IPs that deliver Wi-Fi (up to 802.11 ac 2×2), Bluetooth v4.0 (and Bluetooth Smart), digital radio and FM, in a solution that has been optimized for a mobile power envelope.
  • Audio: MIPS M5100 MCUs leverage the high performance, comprehensive DSP functionality of the MIPS32 architecture that power the industry’s highest performance microcontrollers.

In addition to these on-chip engines, our technologies can be used inside many separate integrated circuits (ICs) that play an important role in the overall design of a mobile platform:

  • 2G/3G/4G modems: Multi-threaded MIPS I-class CPUs are used in a variety of 4G modems, delivering the performance boost required for high-speed LTE while keeping power consumption in check.
  • GNSS: MIPS M-class MCUs can be integrated in standalone positioning receiver ICs (GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou, QZSS etc.) offering the best possible performance within limited memory requirements.
  • Power management units (PMUs): Our smallest, most efficient MIPS M-class CPUs provide an ideal fit for controlling system-wide power management and environmental sensors.
  • Smart cards: Imagination has recently launched two new M-class MIPS processors that address the specific requirements of system architects looking to create highly secure, tamper-resistant solutions.
  • V.VoIP and VoLTE: Enhanced Voice Quality Management (EVQM) and Dynamic Video Quality Management (DVQM) technologies from HelloSoft combined with PowerVR video codecs and Ensigma connectivity technologies can deliver enhanced end-to-end video conferencing over Wi-Fi and other access networks across multiple mobile devices.

Imagination has the right solutions to cover every mobile market segment. The table below gives you some guidance on how our breadth of processor IP maps to mobile market requirements:

 Mobile computing - Imagination IP_processors_for_smartphones and tabletsImagination offers a range of products that can address any mobile SoC requirements

Examples of mobile apps processors

Since smartphones are rapidly replacing feature phones, the mobile market is now experiencing dynamic growth in multiple directions.

The entry-level and mid-range segments are focusing on delivering high performance solutions at very affordable costs and thus design their platforms accordingly. The high-end spectrum is a battle for supremacy among flagship devices and therefore needs ultimate technologies that deliver the best performance within the limited constraints of power consumption in mobile.

With these considerations in mind, here are just two examples of what the future of mobile computing could look like.

Mobile SoCs for affordable devices

If you are targeting an entry-level device and therefore need the best performance per mm2, you can choose a quad-core MIPS interAptiv CPU and a PowerVR Series6XE GPU; additionally, you can integrate a PowerVR Series4 VPU for all mainstream codecs and rely on GPU compute-based software decoding (i.e. no dedicated hardware) for emerging video standards such as VP9.

MIPS interAptiv CPUs support our multithreading technologies; a single core, dual-threaded CPU is seen as a dual-core processor by Linux (SMP) operating systems such as Android. Using multithreading, multicore CPUs in apps processors can boost performance significantly for real-time applications, including web browsing.

Bringing in imaging (PowerVR V2500 ISP) and all-round connectivity on chip (Ensigma C4521) will further lower costs since you won’t need to purchase separate dedicated chipsets to handle those functions. Since all your functionality is now integrated on-chip and built on the same process node, the overall system efficiency will be vastly improved, leading to lower power consumption.

Mobile computing - Apps_processor_for affordable_mobile_devices An example of an apps processor for affordable mobile devices

Mobile SoCs for high-end devices

If you’re building an SoC for a smartphone flagship and need the ultimate best in performance per mW, a hexa-core MIPS P5600 CPU can be an optimal choice. You can configure four CPUs running at maximum frequency for crunching through high throughput tasks and two CPUs clocked much lower to handle less demanding tasks.

Add a PowerVR Series6XT GPU, our latest-generation, H.265-capable PowerVR Series5 VPU and the PowerVR V2500 ISP and you have the best multimedia subsystem available on the market. With a system-wide multimedia pipeline capable of handling Ultra HD resolutions at 10-bit color depth from capture until display, the PowerVR vision platform offers a vastly improved experience from capturing photos and videos to console-quality gaming.

Connectivity-wise, Ensigma C4531 offers the latest high-speed wireless standards, including 802.11ac 2×2, Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Smart or crystal-clear digital/FM radio.

Mobile computing - Apps processor for high end mobile devicesAn example of an apps processor for high-end mobile devices

Finally, not only do our IP processors deliver market leading functionality in their own right, but they are optimized to work together more efficiently under typical mobile workloads, therefore improving overall system performance. For example, the PowerVR ISP is capable of passing hints to downstream blocks (PowerVR GPU, MIPS CPU, PowerVR VPU, etc.) that it is about to send blocks of relevant data. This technology offers superior processing for real-time image/video processing and encoding, computational photography, augmented reality and many other applications.

The mobile computing market continues to be one of the most dynamic and influential segments of the semiconductor industry. Imagination and its partners are leading the way, always creating new and exciting technologies for the next generation of consumer products.

What do you think about our two examples? How would your ideal mobile SoC look like? Leave us a comment in the box below.

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About the author: Alex Voica

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Before deciding to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing, Alexandru held various engineering roles at leading semiconductor companies in Europe. His background also includes research in computer graphics and VR at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa. You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica.

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