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ST-Ericsson uncloaks 2.5GHz Jekyll & Hyde smartphone chip

First out of the gate with FD-SOI and power-saving eQuad tech

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CES 2013 The CES 2013 show floor may be crammed with smartphones, tablets, and other ARM-powered gadgets, but there's more news from the show than just the gadgets themselves. There's also a new chip that can power them – namely a new 2.5GHz part from ST-Ericsson.

"Building on the architecture of our first generation NovaThor L8540 LTE ModAp announced last year, we believe our new platform represents a real industry breakthrough," said president and CEO Didier Lamouche in a statement announcing the new NovaThor L8580 LTE ModAp.

The L8580 shares much in common with the earlier L8540, but there are significant differences, as well. On the things-in-common side, both are based on two ARM Cortex-A9 CPU cores and an Imagination PowerVR SGX544 GPU, which share the same die with a modem that supports LTE FDD/TDD (Cat.3), 42Mbps HSPA+, TD-SCDMA, and EDGE along with support for 1080p video at up to 60fps and a 10-megapixel camera.

That's where the major similarities end, however – and that's where the L8580 becomes more interesting. For one thing, the L8540 topped out at 1.85GHz, while the new L8580 is capable of speeds up to 2.5GHz.

The company claims that although the L8580's CPU cores are 35 per cent faster than tha L8540's and its GPU and multimedia accelerators are 20 per cent faster, it runs runs cooler when running at 2.5GHz and consumes up to 50 per cent less power than what the company coyly refers to as "rival architectures".

That higher clock rate and cool, low-power performance are not the L8580's only trick, however. It's also the first of ST-Ericsson's chips to employ a technology they call "eQuad," which enables each core to not only spin at that speedy 2.5GHz, but also step down to a power-miserly 0.6-volt operation. ST-Ericsson didn't say what clock rate that low-power mode could achieve, but they do claim that it provides "more than enough computing power for the majority of applications in everyday use."

The chip's higher speed and cooler performance are enabled by STMicroelectronics' new 28-nanometer fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI) process technology, presumably produced in the company's Crolles-2 300mm fab near Grenoble, France.

The company refers to the transistors created by this new process as "innovative double-gate vertical transistors", which sounds to us as some sort of mash-up of planar and tri-gate geometries. A company spokeswoman said she'd send us a draft of a white paper scheduled for release later this month; we look forward to discover exactly how planar and how 3D the STMicroelectronics design is.

All in all, the NovaThor L8580 LTE ModAp look like an interesting part, and one that OEMs might want to take a look at if they're planning on building a cool-running LTE-enabled smartphone or tablet with a long battery life.

The new part should start sampling in the first quarter of this year. Maybe we'll see it powering some of the gadgets being displayed at CES 2014. ®

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