Linley Newsletter: May 25, 2017

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Linley Newsletter
(Formerly Processor Watch, Linley Wire, and Linley on Mobile)
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Issue #549
May 25, 2017

Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill
Contributors: Linley Gwennap, Loring Wirbel

In This Issue:

- Snapdragon 660 Upgrades to 14nm
- AMS Hides Smartphone Sensors
- Valens Retools for Autos

Available Now: "Communications Semiconductor Market Share 2016"

We are pleased to announce the release of our "Communications Semiconductor Market Share 2016" report. You will find all-new data in 20 categories of communications ICs. We cover Ethernet products, broadband interface chips, embedded processors, FPGAs, and more. You will also find brief text summaries analyzing the data.

New to this edition is coverage of optical-interface components, which comprise CDR, TIA, and driver devices used in optical modules. For server connectivity, this report includes Ethernet NIC and controller shipments as well as the emerging intelligent-NIC (iNIC) category.

For a complete description of the report, as well as the table of contents, visit our web site:

Please contact us at to order this new edition or to obtain further information.

Snapdragon 660 Upgrades to 14nm
By Linley Gwennap

Qualcomm has rolled out two new processors in its midrange Snapdragon 600 family: the 660 and 630. These chips bring high-end performance and features to phones that sell for $200 to $400. Compared with earlier models, they deliver greater CPU and GPU performance, faster downlink speeds, and improved DSP and image-processing (ISP) capabilities. Both are in production, with phones rolling out over the next few months.

At the family's high end, the Snapdragon 660 provides an upgrade to last year's Snapdragon 653. Whereas the 653 uses 28nm technology, the 660 moves to Samsung's 14nm FinFET process, which employs smaller and faster transistors. The Snapdragon 630 targets slightly lower price and performance, extending the earlier Snapdragon 626. Both of these chips use the same 14nm process. The 630 and 660 include Qualcomm's X12 modem, which supports 600Mbps downloads.

The Snapdragon 660 targets "super-midrange" phones with up to QHD (4Mpixel) displays. It will reportedly appear in upcoming products such as the Nokia 7, Nokia 8, and Xiaomi Mi Max 2 that will sell for $300 to $400. The Snapdragon 630 aims for slightly lower-price phones with 1080p displays, and the GPU performance drops accordingly. Lacking any big cores, it offers about half the single-thread performance of the 660.

The 660 includes many features from the Snapdragon 820, last year's premium model, but at a lower price. Its CPUs are only 10% slower than in the flagship Snapdragon 835, but that chip offers other advantages, too. Although the 600 family is less popular than the 400 and 800 families, it's widely used, filling a gap for OEMs that want to build less expensive smartphones that offer some premium features.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

AMS Hides Smartphone Sensors
By Tom R. Halfhill

Smartphone makers are scrounging for new ways to differentiate their products and to design phones that resemble a solid slab of smooth glass. One obsession is removing all blemishes from the front surface, including the tiny holes, or "apertures," in the screen's top bezel for the speaker, front camera, and sensors.

The biggest aperture, by far, is the elongated speaker slot -- but it's necessary until the last few holdouts finally stop using their phones to make phone calls. The next-largest aperture is for the selfie camera's lens, but it's required until narcissism becomes unfashionable. So, by process of elimination, the apertures for the front-facing sensors are the best candidates for elimination.

Most smartphones have a 3-in-1 optical-sensor module. One component is an ambient-light sensor that enables the phone to adjust the screen's brightness for comfortable viewing: brighter in bright light, dimmer in dim light. If the sensor can measure color temperatures, the phone can also adjust the screen's white point to the color of the ambient light. The third function is a proximity sensor that can automatically turn off the screen when the phone is close to the user's ear during a voice call.

Hiding the aperture for the 3-in-1 module may seem frivolous, but the leading smartphone makers are high-volume customers, so suppliers must heed their slightest whims. That's why AMS, the industry's largest supplier of light sensors, has invented new modules that can hide behind an inked screen bezel of any color without sacrificing performance. The initial products, available now, are two-chip solutions, but AMS is sampling a next-generation product that will integrate these functions in a single-chip module. When purchased in typically huge smartphone volumes, these sensors cost less than a dollar.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

Valens Retools for Autos
By Loring Wirbel

Valens originally developed the HDBaseT technology that uses proprietary forms of PAM modulation for consumer and professional A/V networks. Now the Israeli DSP specialist has refocused on automotive networks using its technology over single twisted-pair cables. Following a November 2016 pact with Daimler AG to collaborate on a 6Gbps UTP network solution for in-vehicle transmission of audio, video, USB, data, and power transport, Valens won $60 million in new funding from a group led by Israel Growth Partners. Investors in this round include Delphi, Goldman Sachs, MediaTek, and Samsung Catalyst Fund.

The company is working with Argus Software Security and Check Point Software Technologies on the Cyber Security Working Group for automotive security. It also initiated a partnership with STMicroelectronics to apply that company's design and manufacturing expertise to a future VA6000 chip, which will be based on the existing Colligo HDBaseT line for consumer networks. ST gained no second-source rights to this transceiver, though.

Valens founded the HDBaseT Alliance in 2010 with LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. NXP is among the 180 members in the expanded coalition. Valens has maintained a tight licensing policy of producing its own chip sets and using the alliance to define the standard for the high-speed transport architecture, thus remaining a sole source of transceiver chips. Despite Valens' sole-source transceiver status, IEEE approved HDBaseT in its P1911 standards effort at the end of 2014 and accepted the standard in 1Q15.

HDBaseT is by no means destined to become the backbone network of choice in automotive applications, but Valens has chosen one of the few markets where Ethernet is not automatically assumed to be the default Layer 2 framing format.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

About Linley Newsletter

Linley Newsletter is a free electronic newsletter that reports and analyzes advances in microprocessors, networking chips, and mobile-communications chips. It is published by The Linley Group and consolidates our previous electronic newsletters: Processor Watch, Linley Wire, and Linley on Mobile. To subscribe, please visit:

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors

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