FD-SOI ARM-based SmartPhone Chip Hitting 3GHz in Barcelona – But Wait: It’s the Low Active Standby Power (0.6V for 1GHz) That’s Really Amazing!

You saw the video of the STMicroelectronics demo at the recent CES in Las Vegas – the one of the ST-Ericsson 28nm FD-SOI NovaThor L8580, right? It’s billed as a 2.5GHz chip – an industry best, but the video showed it clocking at 2.8GHz. Well now the ST-E & ST folks are saying they can do even better.   They’re saying that at the mega-important Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, they’ll be showing that chip run at 3GHz!  3GHz – that’s good for a PC, but this is for a smartphone!  And in that high-performance mode it takes 35% less power than anything remotely comparable (but really, no one can touch them at that speed).

Mobile World Congress 2013

So that’s all really amazing, right? And the biz press should be all over that figure.  But if you’re in the engineering community, or if you’re just someone with a smartphone in your pocket, what’s really going to knock your socks off is the low-power story.

“…the L8580’s ground breaking 0.6V low power mode consumes 50% less power at 1GHz redefining the active standby experience for users of mobile devices while adding hours of battery life,” notes Didier Lamouche, President and CEO of ST-Ericsson.

Just by way of reminder for the laymen among us, that 0.6V refers to VDD, aka the “supply voltage”, the main voltage “in” that powers the chip.

Until now, the lowest VDD anyone on bulk could do at all was 0.7V and you weren’t getting anywhere near 1GHz – you were talking more like 0.4 GHz.

eQuad chip

Now, with ST’s FD-SOI process technology, ST-E can run their chip reliably in “low-power mode” at 1GHz, pulling only 0.6V, which is amazing – to hit 1GHz in bulk you’d need .9V – and this is what makes the big difference in battery life.

Both companies have issued pre-heat press releases for Barcelona.  ST is sounding extremely (and rightfully!) confident.  “As we had anticipated, FD-SOI is proving to be fast, simple and cool; we had fully expected to see 3GHz operating speeds, the design approach is very consistent with what we had been doing in bulk CMOS, and, with the benefits of fully depleted channels and back biasing, the low-power requirements are also meeting our expectations,” said Jean-Marc Chery, Executive Vice President, General Manager Digital Sector, and Chief Technology and Manufacturing Officer of STMicroelectronics.

They’re putting a big emphasis on the simplicity of the solution.  As they reiterate in the press release, “ST has found porting Libraries and Physical IPs from 28nm Bulk CMOS to 28nm FD-SOI to be straightforward, and the process of designing digital SoCs with conventional CAD tools and methods in FD-SOI to be identical to Bulk, due to the absence of MOS-history-effect. FD-SOI enables production of highly energy-efficient devices, with the dynamic body-bias allowing instant switch to high-performance mode when needed and return to a very-low-leakage state for the rest of the time – all in a totally transparent fashion for the Application Software, Operating System, and the Cache Systems.”

From ST-Ericsson, of course, they are really psyched-up about the speed, ultra-low power consumption and overall performance they’re getting with FD-SOI.  They’re calling it “..a disruption for the wireless industry”.  And it is (if you’re been reading ASN over the last year,  you knew this was coming).  But this is just part of the overall package for this chip.

The NovaThor L8580 integrates an eQuad 2.5GHz processor based on ARM Cortex-A9’s, a powerful Imagination PowerVR™ SGX544 GPU running at 600Mhz and an advanced multimode LTE modem supporting Carrier Aggregation on a single 28nm FD-SOI die. 
It gets downlink speeds up to 150Mbps, and supports up to 17 bands in the same device (that about covers the planet).

The NovaThor L8580 is pin-to-pin and software compatible with ST-Ericsson’s first generation NovaThor LTE multimode platform, the L8540. So the upgrade path is clear sailing, which should make developers very happy.

Momentum’s building, folks. Can you say juggernaut?

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ST will be demonstrating the FD-SOI technology at its booth (Hall 7 E110) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb 25-28.

The NovaThor L8580 will be demoed at Mobile World Congress in the ST-Ericsson Public Booth in Hall 7 (#E111) and, by appointment only, in their Private Pavilion in Hall 2 (#D90).

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