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MCPs drive today's handhelds

Posted: 18 Dec 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Portelligent? Nokia? GSM? GPS? mobile TV?

The adoption of multichip packages (MCPs) in such mobile systems as cellphones, digital cameras and MP3 players is nearing its peak. That's the conclusion of a report from Portelligent based on an analysis of its database of 400 product teardowns. The report includes handheld GPS systems and portable media players.

As many as 90 percent of all mobile systems were using at least one MCP at the end of 2005. That's up dramatically from about 45 percent of all mobile devices that used some form of MCP in 2004, Portelligent said.

Cellular handsets are ahead of the curve: They reached a 90 percent penetration level of MCPs in late 2004. More than 90 percent of cellphones now have at least one MCP, which stacks multiple memory dice in a single package.

Overall, cellphones now tend to have one or two MCPs containing two to four dice each, said Jeff Brown, a principal analyst at Portelligent. Peak use came with Japan's first-generation W-CDMA phones in 2003, whose feature-laden systems packed as many as seven to nine MCPs. Separate GSM, W-CDMA and other devices are now being combined into a single SoC die in those designs, Brown said.

Mem configurations
Handsets typically use one MCP for memory and another for logic. For example, Qualcomm packs digital and analog baseband dice in some of its logic packages.

Some growth in MCP use may come in the form of radio modules for Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that include RF, baseband parts and sometimes discretes.

Mobile TV, however, tends to be delivered on a module because of the need for a number of discrete parts, including SAW filters, and frequency and timing controllers.

In an unusual twist, one Sanyo phone embedded the demodulator for an ISDB-T mobile-TV receiver between the layers of its PCB.

Digital cameras are expected to continue their now widespread combinations of image sensors and processors or graphics and SRAM dice in a package.

One category that appears to be on the wane is the combination of memory and logic. In the early days of W-CDMA phones, it was not unusual to see applications processors paired with NAND flash or SRAM. Digital baseband chips have also been coupled with multiple stacked memory dice.

"Some attempts didn't pan out, and people seem to be abandoning that now," said Brown.

However, Nokia is among a handful of companies driving a new approach for high-end handsets that involves putting pads on the upper outside ring of a BGA package so that a second package can ride piggyback-style on top of it. The technique emerged in 2005 with Nokia's 7280 stick phone.

Nokia is spreading use of a package-on-package approach into larger handsets where the form factor may not require such tight use of space.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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