Mediatek changes the router market with a new SoC

Three new families of product, one could be great

Mediatek LogoToday Mediatek is announcing three new SoCs for phones, gateways, and IoT. If you were waiting for an inexpensive Cat6 LTE modem or a new idea in the gateway space, you suddenly have a lot more options.

The first new SoC is called the MT7687 and like all Mediatek SoCs, the name gives away all the functions. Naming jokes aside this SoC is meant for IoT uses and it’s integration is the main thing to make note of. It all starts out with an ARM Cortex-M4F meaning the MT7687 is firmly in the microcontroller class of devices. Add in a 1×1 802.11n radio and you have the basis for a low power sensor or smart device.

One trend that seems to be the norm now is a full-blown hardware security engine so you don’t need to waste your M4’s cycles doing that math. Since almost all IoT frameworks now mandate crypto on some level or other, this addition seems to be both required and a good idea on the power front. I would expect all new IoT SoCs worth bothering with will have hardware crypto from here on out.

Next up we have the Helio P10, a step down from the X10 introduced at MWC. This bouncing baby chip is an 8-core A53 at 2GHz along with a 700MHz Mali-T860 2-core GPU. More important is the modem, it is Mediatek’s first LTE Cat6 device and sports 2×20 carrier aggregation. For those not into LTE modem spec minutia, that puts it at 300/50Mbps speeds, fast but not Cat9.

If you look at the specs though, this is going to be one small die which translates into an inexpensive device. Eight A53 cores are much smaller than 4xA53 + 4XA57 and the GPUs are not oversized for this product category either. While the modem might take up a lot of area, that is one of the key selling points so it is what it is. Basically with the launch of the Helio P10, Mediatek is lowering the entry price for 8-core Cat6 devices by quite a bit without compromising any of the bullet point specs ignorant consumers buy on. This one could be a big hit.

On a technical note, the P10 is being built on TSMC’s new HPC+ process, not the expected 20nm or ’16’nm processes that are all the rage of late. TSMC is claiming this new tweak drops leakage by 50% or you can get 15% higher clocks for the same power as you would get from a 28HPC no + design. Mediatek is claiming roughly 35% power saving vs doing the P10 on 28HPC, not a bad step forward. As we said this chip is about cost, and 20/16nm costs a lot more and yields are not there either.

Lastly we come to a pair of similar devices, the MT7623 and the MT7683, both aimed at the router/gateway markets. The smaller MT7623 is a quad-core ARM A7 based device running at 1.3GHz. It has a 4×4 802.11ac radio built-in plus Bluetooth/BTLE for speakers and IoT uses. There are also two sets of accelerators on board, a 2.5GHz NAT/QoS/SFQ engine and a 1GHz crypto engine for VPNs. In short this is a pretty bog-standard gateway chip for the modern era, yay?

That brings us to the MT7683 which is an MT7682 with an interesting twist, a Mali-T450 GPU. Up till now if you wanted a gateway with the ability to drive a screen, you effectively had to roll your own hardware. This was a cost and coding issue compared to purpose built SoCs. Time to market, coding, maintenance. and all the rest of the knock-on effects matter in this market so not too many took this route.

With the MT7683, Mediatek is offering a single device gateway SoC that has an HDMI port and can drive a 720p screen touch panel or a 1080p/60 screen. If you stop and think about the capabilities that this unlocks for things like a combo TV/router/cable box/home media center, there is a lot of good here. What will actually be made from the MT7683 and similar devices is an open question but the ability to add a screen to this type of box is long overdue. Let the designs flow.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate