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Broadcom spins single- and dual-core A9 SoCs for Android

Feb 10, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 9 views

Broadcom announced its first smartphone system-on-chips (SoCs) to feature ARM Cortex-A9 cores, plus two new GPS chipsets with GLONASS support. The 40-nanometer fabricated smartphone SoCs, both supporting Android and integrating Broadcom's VideoCore IV mobile multimedia chip, include the dual-core, 1.1GHz BCM28150, designed for HSPA+, and the single-core, HSPA-ready BCM21654, says the chipmaker.

In the handset arena, Broadcom previously focused on modem-oriented baseband processors or specialty PND chips and Wi-Fi chipsets. But now, it's aggressively moving into developing processors for Android devices.

In February of last year, however, the company announced an ARM11-based BCM21553 SoC aimed at mid-range 3G smartphones running Android. In December, if followed up with the BCM2157, a dual-core 500MHz ARM11 baseband platform that exclusively targets affordable Android phones.

Now Broadcom has stepped it up with the high-end dual-core, 1.1GHz BCM28150, which supports Android and other open operating systems, and the single-core, mid-range BCM21654, which is specifically targeted at Android 2.3 and higher phones. Both SoCs adopt the Cortex-A9, already widely used in other SoCs, most notably in the popular Nvidia Tegra 2. (Other recent Cortex-A9 entrants include Qualcomm's Snapdragon APQ8060 announced this week, as well as Freescale's i.MX 6 and the Samsung Orion.)

Aside from the Cortex-A9 and Android connections, the BCM28150 and BCM21654 both feature Broadcom's VideoCore IV mobile multimedia coprocessor. The SoCs are also both fabricated with a 40-nanometer process.


The top-of-the-line BCM28150 combines dual 1.1GHz Cortex-A9 cores with a 4G HSPA+ modem, the VideoCore IV chip, and dual LPDDR2 memory support. The 4G baseband processor supports EDGE, WCDMA, and HSPA+ networks with a "release 8" feature set, presumably compatible with T-Mobile's increasingly fast HSPA+ network. The SoC supports HSDPA downloads of between 14.4Mbps and 21Mbps, claims Broadcom.

The baseband is also said to include Broadcom's PRISM (programmable interference suppression module) technology. PRISM is said to mitigate interference from radio signals emanating from neighboring cells.

Combined with the power of the two 1.1GHz cores, the VideoCore IV chip provides the BCM28150 with the capability of playing high profile 1080p video, and generating 2D and 3D graphics at 1Gpx/s (gigapixels per second) fill rates, says Broadcom. The SoC is also said to support low-light imaging for up to 20-megapixel camera sensors.

The BCM28150 comes with integrated stereo audio and a rich set of peripherals. However, as usual with Broadcom, no further details were offered, nor was there a block diagram.

As noted the BCM28150 supports Android (version unstated) and "other open operating systems," which we assume to mean Linux, and possibly Symbian. (Despite having recently joined the Linux Foundation and — finally — released an 80211n driver for Linux, Broadcom seems to still have trouble saying the "L" word. Meanwhile, it's hard to find anyone these days willing to say the "S" word.)

Broadcom offers a BCM28150 form factor reference platform called the Broadstone, which adds a BCM2091 radio frequency (RF) IC and a BCM59056 power management unit (PMU). The Broadstone reference design also offers a charger and audio support, as well as Broadcom's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM, A-GPS, and NFC connectivity technologies, says the company.


The single-core, HSPA-ready BCM21654 SoC is touted as being "low cost," designed for mass-market Android handsets running Android 2.3 or higher. The SoC integrates a single Cortex-A9 core, the clock rate of which is undisclosed. There is also a HSPA 3G baseband, an ARM Cortex-R4 communications processor, and the VideoCore IV multimedia chip, says Broadcom.

The BCM21654 baseband includes an integrated 3G HSPA modem that supports 7.2Mbps of downstream and 5.8Mbps upstream connectivity, as well as Class 32 EDGE support. The BCM21654 also offers 3G Dual-SIM capability, letting a single handset serve different phone numbers or accounts for bridging the work/home dichotomy. 

Combined with only a single, presumably lower-powered, A9 core, the VideoCore IV can't pump out 1080p video or drive 20-megapixel cameras like the BCM28150 does. However, it does offer 30 frames per second (fps) playback of full-rate video standards such as H.264 at VGA resolution.

Other touted multimedia features include a 3D graphics engine that enables up to 20 million triangles per second performance, says Broadcom. In addition, the device supports 12-megapixel cameras, as well as 16 million color dual displays, up to WVGA resolution, says the company.

The BCM21654 can be augmented with a Broadcom BCM4330 WLAN/Bluetooth/FM combo chip and the BCM47511 GPS chip with GPS and  support, says Broadcom (see below). Although no reference platform was mentioned, OEMs can also integrate the BCM2091 RF IC or BCM59039 PMU, says the company.

GPS chips add GLONASS support

Broadcom also announced several new products that add support for the Russian GLONASS navigation satellite network. Having a second network nearly doubles the number of satellites available for navigation, says Broadcom. As a result, GLONASS support increases the likelihood of getting a GPS fix, especially in urban canyon environments, says the company.

The BCM47511 standalone GPS SoC is pin-compatible to the BCM4751 GPS SoC, and appears to be fairly similar except for the addition of GLONASS. Broadcom also introduced a chipset that combines GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth, and FM tuner support.

In addition, the company announced the upgrade of its Assisted-GPS (A-GPS) data service to support the delivery of GLONASS assistance data for mobile and personal navigation device users. Finally, the company is upgrading its Long-Term-Orbit (LTO) service, which serves approximately 2.3 billion downloads a month.


No pricing or availability information was provided for any of the processors mentioned in this story. More information may be found on Broadcom's BCM28150 page, its BCM21654 page, and its announcement of the BCM47511 and BCM2076 GPS/GLONASS solutions.

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