Broadcom announced this week a set of 3G smartphone chips that have been designed specifically to exploit Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The new silicon especially focuses on improving Android graphics performance.
The chips are aimed at the growing Android mobile market worldwide, offering handset makers a choice of pricing and performance, with one- and two-core ARM-based processors. All three are highly integrated "system-on-a-chip" or SOCs.
"Ice Cream Sandwich is a spectacular improvement over Gingerbread, [the previous release]," says Bob Rango, senior vice president for Broadcoam's mobile and wireless group.
"Graphics performance is more important than CPU performance for Android 4.0," Rango says. "Our graphics processing is all Broadcom silicon, and it conforms to the OpenGL standards."
Another optimization is support for dual-band Wi-Fi - including the 5-GHz band as well as the more common 2.4 GHz - and support for the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Direct specification, which is designed to let two or more clients directly and securely connect to each other, without requiring an access point to mediate. A cell phone can wirelessly link to a widescreen TV or a tablet to desktop PC (and its attached monitor) to share a video, for example.
The new SOCs also implement a new Bluetooth 4.0 standard, Bluetooth Low Energy. Rango says BLE lets a Bluetooth-equipped peripheral operate with a dime-sized battery for a year. The peripherals can be a range of telemetry and other monitoring devices that can share data with a smartphone or tablet. "Bluetooth 4.0 enables this entire ecosystem," he says.
The new BCM21654G uses a single 1-GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor, with integrated 7.2/5.8 Mbps HSPA modem and low-power VGA video support.
The BCM28145 and BCM28155 are dual ARM Cortex A9 cores cranked up to 1.3 GHz, and 21/5.8 Mbps HSPA+ modems. The former supports HD 720p, the latter 1080p video, through the chipmakers VideoCore technology, which effectively offloads graphics from the application processor. Broadcom says the chips have the lowest-power HD playback and camcorder capabilities up to 1080p. The integrated HSPA+ modem supports up to 21Mbps downstream, and 5.8Mbps upstream.
For these products, Broadcom switched to a low power 40-nanometer process technology from a 65-nanometer, which cut power needs by 40% to 50% and a more compact and integrated product: the SOC incudes radio frequency (RF), a power management unit (PMU) and an advanced connectivity suite. The vendor also reduced latency in memory and the bus architecture, contributing to a more fluid and responsive user interface.
The new chips make use of Qualcomm's VideoCore technology, which in effect offloads the phone's application processor. Qualcomm says these ICS phones have the lowest power HD playback and camcorder capabilities up to 1080p. Rango says phones with these features will be available within six to nine months.
Also common to all three is the imaging, via Broadcom's latest Image Signal Processor. Changes include support for cameras up to 42 megapixels, capturing images in very low light, and a "wide dynamic range" for the sharpest images.
The SOC consolidation will make possible lower-priced phones, with the price by about one-half, to about $300 retail, Rango estimates in the second half of 2012.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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