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China Turns Up the Heat

The International ARM Race: Rise Of The Chinese SoC
By , Dorian Black

ARM’s open-license model has allowed it to become ubiquitous in the mobile market, simultaneously giving lesser-known or brand-new semiconductor companies the opportunity to use its IP to build SoCs of their own. Those chip makers can then use their hardware to compete against the well-known semiconductor giants.

Many of these companies, which don’t yet have pervasive brands, have to compete against the entry-level offerings from larger, more established competitors. This is exactly the kind of strategy Chinese companies use to excel, thanks to the low costs of manufacturing. Now, as some of those vendors cultivate more notable brands, many device manufacturers are starting to choose their wares, and not just because of low prices.

The Chinese semiconductor companies started out at the lower end of the performance spectrum, and have successively raised the bar to hit higher levels. More powerful SoCs command greater premiums and earn higher margins. Naturally, they all want to increase their profits.  

At the same time, since they've been offering aggressive pricing from the beginning, even their quicker processors are still considered affordable compared to the competition. This should allow them to steal market share from the better-known chip companies, even at the high end of the mobile chip market, earning positions in more popular flagship devices, which, in turn, will strengthen their brand.

The Chinese chip makers that seem to be doing the best right now are MediaTek, Rockchip, and Allwinner. Together, they have 75.7 percent of the tablet processor market in China, with Rockchip and Allwinner taking the lead.

MediaTek is doing much better in the phone market in China, with over 50 percent market share, thanks to the integration of its processors with baseband modems. Its main Chinese competition there is Spreadtrum, though that company’s market share is five times smaller.

Qualcomm is the only real challenge to MediaTek in the Chinese smartphone market. But even that juggernaut had to adopt stock Cortex-A5 and -A7 designs in order to become price-competitive. It had a brief advantage in the LTE market by integrating the cellular standard into its SoCs. However, Qualcomm’s market share is declining as more companies integrate baseband modems.

With the Chinese government and manufacturing customers tending to favor Chinese chip makers as well, it's going to become increasingly difficult for an outsider like Qualcomm to compete against these fast-growing Chinese chip makers, especially when they can't even beat them on price.

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Top Comments
  • 19 Hide
    SWEETMUSK , August 28, 2014 11:14 AM
    Please stop saying that Taiwan is equal to China . We are different , yes maybe Taiwanese's Ancestor are the same from china but now we are different!! just like England and America before . we speak same language but doesn't mean we are the same. is Canda and America are the same country ? because they both speak english?NO they are not the same! Taiwanese got a lot different Politics,Community and Traditional compare to the China please put 2 flag on which one is Taiwan and which one is China Thank you
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    blackmagnum , August 28, 2014 12:37 AM
    God bless, America. If you can't beat them, join them!
  • 0 Hide
    jossrik , August 28, 2014 12:52 AM
    It'll be interesting to see where manufacturing goes in the future, maybe back to EU or even Africa somewhere maybe. Right now it's hard to see things get cheaper than China, but of course, eventually it will happen. I hear Apple is gonna buy China.
  • 1 Hide
    jjjjkkkk , August 28, 2014 12:54 AM
    MediaTek is Taiwanese not Chinese
    remove it from the list
  • 0 Hide
    Draven35 , August 28, 2014 1:13 AM
    Quote:
    The company's first commercial foray using this technology came in 1983 with the 16-bit Acorn RISC Machine, or ARM. It ran one of the first true multitasking operating systems in production, RISC OS,


    Except, the first silicon didn't exist until 1985, and the machine running RISC OS didn't exist until 1987.
  • 0 Hide
    blubbey , August 28, 2014 2:23 AM
    Quote:
    God bless, America. If you can't beat them, join them!


    ARM are British though..... (unless I'm missing something which is entirely possible).
  • -3 Hide
    virtualban , August 28, 2014 4:30 AM
    The Chinese may leech off and profit from current available designs, and close-source their 'innovations', but I wonder what will they do when the rest of the world will reverse engineer and use any progress they make without having to answer to the Chinese companies (duh).
  • 1 Hide
    icemunk , August 28, 2014 4:37 AM
    The writer seems to think the RK3288 is a 2015 SOC, however it has been out since April, and many devices are available with it, lots of $200 tablets with 2000X1500 resolution, and a bunch of TV boxes as well for $100. It's an excellent chip, achieving around 40,000 antutu scores. 2015 I'm sure we'll see a brand-new Rockchip, but the RK3288 has been out for some time.
  • -2 Hide
    Andy Chow , August 28, 2014 4:53 AM
    Quote:
    MediaTek is Taiwanese not Chinese
    remove it from the list


    Since when is Taiwanese not Chinese? Read a book.
  • 6 Hide
    oxiide , August 28, 2014 5:48 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    MediaTek is Taiwanese not Chinese
    remove it from the list


    Since when is Taiwanese not Chinese? Read a book.

    Hopefully your books mention that the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (mainland China) are two distinct and, for the most part, recognized nations.

    MediaTek is indeed a Taiwanese company, though I'd rather they just specify that in the article rather than being told to remove it over a technicality. It's still relevant to the topic regardless of where they are headquartered.
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , August 28, 2014 6:07 AM
    Thanks to the author for pointing out the closed-source BS, this makes me hate Mediatek. Others are irrelevant (luckily) so far, don't see their chips in any reasonable devices.
  • -3 Hide
    Au_equus , August 28, 2014 6:32 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    MediaTek is Taiwanese not Chinese
    remove it from the list


    Since when is Taiwanese not Chinese? Read a book.

    Hopefully your books mention that the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (mainland China) are two distinct and, for the most part, recognized nations.

    MediaTek is indeed a Taiwanese company, though I'd rather they just specify that in the article rather than being told to remove it over a technicality. It's still relevant to the topic regardless of where they are headquartered.

    ... as recognized by the US and said partners, but not by the United Nations.
  • 0 Hide
    mliska1 , August 28, 2014 7:15 AM
    I've got a RK3066 in one of those $100 MINIX boxes that are on Newegg. It's pretty powerful for what I need and the MINIX box has been rock solid. It is running on Android 4.0 though and I can't find a way to upgrade it.
  • 1 Hide
    Avus , August 28, 2014 8:45 AM
    If people can jailbreak a closed source OS like iOS, I am sure people can do the same with these garbage Chinese Android OS. If these garbage are popular enough, people will going to make them "open source".
  • 0 Hide
    calmlikeabomb , August 28, 2014 10:58 AM
    you are talking like Googles' is "true" to the open source way of thought.
  • 19 Hide
    SWEETMUSK , August 28, 2014 11:14 AM
    Please stop saying that Taiwan is equal to China . We are different , yes maybe Taiwanese's Ancestor are the same from china but now we are different!! just like England and America before . we speak same language but doesn't mean we are the same. is Canda and America are the same country ? because they both speak english?NO they are not the same! Taiwanese got a lot different Politics,Community and Traditional compare to the China please put 2 flag on which one is Taiwan and which one is China Thank you
  • 0 Hide
    Saga Lout , August 28, 2014 11:52 AM
    SWEETMUSK - please stop posting duplicates. Also, anyone else doing so for voting purposes could be banned from Tom's.
  • -1 Hide
    allenpan , August 28, 2014 3:41 PM
    where is WonderMedia Arm SoC? WonderMedia is part of VIA embedded for ARM solution

    http://www.wondermedia.com.tw/en/index.jsp

    http://www.viagallery.com/Products/wondermedia-wm8980-7-and-10-turnkey-tablet-solutions.aspx
  • 0 Hide
    Simi69 , August 28, 2014 4:36 PM
    This article exaggerates the performance of many of these SOC's and fails to mention the large volume of very low binned chips that should never have been released finding their way into cheap tablets. The rockchip 3188 is a prime example of this, constantly locking up if put under any real pressure. Which is a shame as the rockchip 3066 was an excellent chip.

    It also skips the most ubiquitous of the mediatek chips the mtk6582 which was released just before the mtk6592 as a replacement to the mtk6589, and is the Chinese (Taiwanese) chip most likely to be encountered in budget phones the west at the moment. I appreciate the effort of the article though, and with a bit of cleaning up could be a good reference for those wishing to delve into the world of Chinese smartphones.
  • 1 Hide
    ldo , August 28, 2014 7:42 PM
    Just a note that there is no issue of “spirit” as far as open-sourcing kernels goes. Android uses the Linux kernel, which is released under the GPL. That means that, if you redistribute it, you *must* offer the source. Otherwise you’re in violation of the licence.
  • -1 Hide
    andy5174 , August 28, 2014 9:25 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    MediaTek is Taiwanese not Chinese
    remove it from the list


    Since when is Taiwanese not Chinese? Read a book.

    Hopefully your books mention that the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (mainland China) are two distinct and, for the most part, recognized nations.

    MediaTek is indeed a Taiwanese company, though I'd rather they just specify that in the article rather than being told to remove it over a technicality. It's still relevant to the topic regardless of where they are headquartered.

    ... as recognized by the US and said partners, but not by the United Nations.


    rofl! Peoples from all over the world know that Taiwan is an independent country including you Chinese. You Chinese just don't admit it! China's economy will become a joke when China is no longer the cheapest place for manufacturing. By then, no country will support your *OWNERSHIP claim of Taiwan politically. BTW, even now, no one but you Chinese support the stupid claim in non-political situations. Truth always hurts, PITA Chinese!
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