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Dual-core Cortex-A9 SoC features built-in GPS

Sep 7, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 18 views

Samsung Electronics announced a dual-core ARM Cortex A9-based system-on-chip (SoC) for tablets, netbooks, and smartphones to compete with Nvidia's Tegra 2. Code-named “Orion,” the 45-nanometer (nm) fabricated SoC offers dual 1GHz cores, and features a 1MB L2 cache, a 1080p HD video accelerator, improved 3D graphics performance, dual-display support, and even a GPS receiver, says the company.

Samsung is fairly late to the Cortex-A9 party, with the Orion following previously announced SoCs from Texas Instruments, Nvidia, NEC, and STMicroelectronics. The Orion is designed with 45nm process technology, as was Samsung's single-core Cortex-A8-based S5PC110 ("Hummingbird"), used in the company's Android-based Galaxy S phones and Galaxy Tab tablet (pictured).

The Orion appears to be aimed directly at Nvidia's dual-core Cortex A9-based Tegra 2. Typically clocked at 1GHz, the Tegra 2 has won the lion's share of the high-end Android tablet market, appearing in products such as the Toshiba Folio 100.

The Orion's dual 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 cores are each equipped with 32KB data cache and a 32KB instruction cache, says Samsung. The SoC also includes a 1MB L2 cache, which helps provide "fast context switching in a multitasking environment," claims the company.

The SoC is further equipped with a variety of hardware accelerators, including a video encoder/decoder that supports 30fps video playback and recording at 1080p resolution, says Samsung. The SoC's graphics processing unit (GPU) is claimed to deliver five times the 3D graphics performance of Samsung's previous processor generation, presumably referring to the Hummingbird.

The accelerators, combined with the SoC's memory interface and bus architecture, enables full HD video playback and high speed 3D action games, claims the company.

DDR3, GPS, and dual embedded displays

The Orion offers a choice between low-power LPDDR2 and higher-performance DDR3 memory technologies, as well as either NAND flash or moviNAND, says Samsung. For greater storage needs, the SoC is said to support solid-state drives (SSDs), as well as either SATA or eMMC-enabled hard disk drives (HDDs).

Reflecting the growing ubiquity of GPS in mobile devices, the Orion offers its own GPS receiver and baseband processor. Other features are said to include a native triple display controller architecture that improves multitasking performance over multiple displays. The controller can simultaneously support two on-device display screens, while driving a third external display via an on-chip HDMI 1.3a interface, claims Samsung.

The Orion is said to support package-on-package (POP) designs that use memory stacking to reduce the footprint. Also available is a standalone-package derivative with a 0.8mm ball pitch. No other details appear to be currently available on the processor.

The 1GHz Orion does not appear to be based on the 40nm, dual-core Cortex-A9 Osprey design announced a year ago by ARM Holdings, which was said at the time to support clock speeds up to 2.5GHz. Last week, Globalfoundries announced it had reached a "significant milestone" in its production of 28nm Cortex-A9 processors, with silicon clocked at up to 2.5Ghz expected late this year.

Compared to the widely used Cortex-A8 core, the Cortex-A9 supports faster speeds and multicore designs, and adds support for ARM's MPCore interconnect technology. (For more information on the latest Cortex-A9 news, as well as further A9 background, see our 28nm coverage, here.)

Samsung spins 1.4-micron CMOS imagers

According to our sister publication eWEEK, Samsung also announced two 1.4 micron CMOS imagers, the S5K4E5 and S5K2N1. The imagers use "back side illuminated" (BSI) pixel technology to help improve quality in low light scenarios.

In contrast to the front side illumination technology, backside illumination collects photons from the reverse side of the pixel, says the story. The reversed structure moves the photodiode to the top. This is claimed to maximize photoelectric efficiency as the light is not scattered through the metal wiring and dielectric layers, which cause the loss of photons.

Whereas the S5K4E5 is optimized for smartphones, the S5K2N1 is aimed at digital still cameras (DSCs) and digital video cameras (DVCs), says the story.

Stated Dojun Rhee, vice president of Marketing, System LSI Division, Samsung Electronics, "Mobile device designers need an application processor platform that delivers superb multimedia performance, fast CPU processing speed, and abundant memory bandwidth. Samsung's newest dual core application processor chip is designed specifically to fulfill such stringent performance requirements while maintaining long battery life."


The Orion will be available to select customers in the fourth quarter, and is scheduled for mass production in the first half of 2011, says Samsung. The SoC will be demonstrated at the seventh annual Samsung Mobile Solutions Forum held in Taiwan at the Westin Taipei Hotel.

The eWEEK story on Samsung's new CMOS imagers, as well as the Orion, may be found here.

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