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Sneak peek at a proof-of-concept Snapdragon MCM

May 14, 2014  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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We spied an interesting Qualcomm “proof of concept” multi-chip-module (MCM), described as a “Nexus 7 on a chip,” at the recent EE Live! conference.

The Qualcomm rep who showed it to us (and is holding it in the photos below) emphasized that the MCM was purely a “proof of concept” being shown around to prospective OEMs, and would not necessarily end up going into production. Still, in light of the recent flurry of Snapdragon-based computer-on-modules (COMs) from embedded board vendors (see “Related posts” list farther below), we can’t help wondering if Qualcomm might be preparing to market its Snapdragon SoCs more aggressively to makers of devices outside the realm of consumer smartphones and tablets.



Qualcomm “proof-of-concept” Snapdragon MCM: top and bottom
(click images to enlarge)

The Qualcomm rep declined to offer any further details, although he also showed us another one of the MCMs mounted on the development board shown below. The dev board offers numerous header pins through which the module’s I/O and other signals can be accessed. The dev board also appears to reveal the MCM’s codename to be “Clarence.”


Proof-of-concept Snapdragon MCM on its development board
(click image to enlarge)

Assuming that the rather vague characterization of the MCM as a “Nexus 7 on a chip” refers to the current Nexus 7, the module may well consist of a Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC plus RAM, flash, and a few other active components. The S4 Pro is part of the Snapdragon 600 series, whose block diagram appears at the left, below. To its right is a block diagram of the more potent Snapdragon 800 series SoCs, which could also be what’s embedded in the proof-of-concept MCM.


Snapdragon 600 and 800 series block diagrams
(click images for larger versions with descriptions)

The Snapdragon S4 Pro is considered to be equivalent to a quad-core Cortex-A15-based SoC. Its four, 28nm-fabricated 1.7GHz “Krait” cores feature an 11-stage pipeline with out-of-order execution. The Krait cores are backed up by 2MB of L2 cache, an integrated Adreno 320 graphics processing unit (GPU), and a 500MHz “Hexagon” QDSP6V4 DSP (digital signal processor). The Snapdragon 800 series advances the CPUs to four 28nm Krait 400 cores, and boosts their clock rates to 2.3GHz, while its GPU steps up to Adreno 330 “for advanced graphics,” says Qualcomm.

Several computer-on-module vendors are already shipping Snapdragon-based COMs, which are arguably also MCMs, although they’re considerably larger than the roughly 1.75-inch-square Clarence MCM shown above. Examples of COMs based on Snapdragon 600 series SoCs (aka include Snapdragon S4 Pro) include Variscite’s VAR-SOM-SD600, CompuLab’s CM-QS600, Inforce’s IFC6400, and Intrinsyc’s Open-Q 8060A. Additionally, Intrinsyc recently announced design wins for its Open-Q 8074 COM, based on a Snapdragon 800 SoC (aka APQ8074).

In light of the current trend of COMs supplanting SBCs (single-board computers) as macrocomponents of choice for customized embedded system designs, it’s no stretch to imagine MCMs — like the Qualcomm Clarence — beginning to encroach on the COM space.

Perhaps some of our readers can tease further specs out of our photos of Qualcomm’s mysterious Clarence MCM. If so, we welcome your insights in the comments below — but please forgive us for not peering more closely at the labeling on those chips prior to departing with somewhat blurry photos!
 

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