A teardown of iRiver's H10 5 GByte MP3 player

Apple's iPod has become a synonym for MP3 player and dominates the global portable audio player stage with an estimated 70 percent market share. But there are choices for those who look for an alternative to carry their music around. Semiconductor Insights took a detailed look at the components of iRiver's iRiver H10 5 GByte MP3 player.

The iRiver H10 5 GByte MP3 player is the real challenger out there for Apple's mini lineup, or for that matter most of Apple's similar MP3 products at competing densities. The only design details that the H10 has similar to Apple is it's compelling 'look and feel' styling, as you can appreciate as soon as you pick up the H10. Not to be outdone, iRiver has also used touch control for the interface and ups the ante by including voice recording capabilities and FM radio. Although the mini has since been removed from Apple's MP3 Player line up, the iRiver H10 was a solid competitor to the best available MP3 player at the time.

The H10 recently won Semiconductor Insights' prestigious 2005 Insight Award for "Best MP3 Player Technology". The following outlines a detailed analysis of the various components used in iRiver's design of the H10 MP3 player.

The majority of the chip content in the H10 comes from Phillips, at 28 percent of the total chip count. The remaining component count is fairly evenly distributed between Linear Technology, PortalPlayer, Samsung, Wolfson Microelectronics and Silicon Storage Technology, at 14 percent each.

The first interesting thing to note is iRiver's choice for their media management, which comes from PortalPlayer (the PP5020 Digital Media Management System-on-Chip). This also happens to be the IC of choice for Apple's iPod mini and Samsung's YEPP YH-820MC. The PP5020 is a powerhouse when it comes to processing (160 MIPS), which comes in useful for encoding digital audio and decoding JPEG images and digital audio. The PP5020 also has integrated SDRAM and NOR flash controllers, and supports the Hi-Speed USB 2.0 specification along with "On-The-Go" capabilities. Although the PP5020 has USB power controller functionality built-in, iRiver decided to use an external USB power controller from Linear Technology (LTC4055).

The LTC4055 USB Power Controller and Li-Ion Charger from Linear Technology takes the lead role in the design win on the iRiver H10 under power control, with support from the Philips TEA1211 DC/DC converter. The LTC4055's main purpose is in monitoring and managing USB power through the system and charging the Li-Ion battery. On the USB front, the LTC4055 manages the current used via the USB peripheral during operation and battery charging functions. It also includes several power management features such as inrush current limiting, automatic battery switchover (when input supply is removed) undervoltage lockout and thermal shutdown. The LTC4055 also includes a complete constant-current/constant-voltage linear charger for single cell Li-Ion batteries.

In addition to the LTC4055, the H10 uses a Philips TEA1211 DC/DC converter to round out the power design. It is crucial in designing battery based systems to extend battery life as much as possible, and the TEA1211 increases the battery life by as much as 44%, with a 94% efficiency. This chip automatically switches between step-up and step-down operations in response to varying input voltages, and can be configured for different supply voltages under various operating modes.

iRiver's H10 uses the Wolfson Microelectronics WM8731 Audio CODEC to complete the audio capabilities. The WM8731 is ideal for both the MP3 functionality as well audio recording and playback, which is supported with stereo line and mono microphone level audio inputs. It boasts solid 24-bit sigma-delta ADCs and DACs with oversampling digital interpolation decimation filters included. To complete the audio experience, the WM8731 comes equipped with buffered stereo audio outputs (for driving headphones) as well as anti-thump mute and power up/down circuitry.

As part of the H10's overall added features, it also includes an FM stereo radio, which it can even record. The FM stereo radio is powered by a Philips TEA5767 Low Power FM Radio. The TEA5767 is a digitally tuned radio IC using a unique radio architecture that drastically reduces external passive components, which in turn reduces the overall bill of materials when designing this IC into MP3 player systems. It is designed for very low power consumption and takes up little of the precious real estate on the PCB (occupying only 25 mm2).

The iRiver H10 features two flash memory products, one from Silicon Storage Technology (SST) and the other from Samsung. The SST39VF800 from SST is one of three from the SST39VF family and is configured for 8 Mbit X 16 / 16 MByte. It is SST's CMOS Multi-Purpose Flash (MPF) manufactured with SST's proprietary high performance CMOS SuperFlash technology. The device uses a split-gate cell design and a thick oxide tunneling injector that allows SST to attain better reliability and manufacturability compared to other vendors. Possibly used in the H10 for program configuration and updating, the SST39VF800 uses less energy (power) during erase and program cycles, which is a well-balanced feature for use in portable products.

Samsung's role in the memory domain for this MP3 player is the K4S561633F - Mobile 4M X 16Bit X 4 Banks (256 Mbit / 32 MByte) SDRAM. Most likely used to store encoded bitstreams, the K4S561633F features a low-voltage supply with four-bank operation. Its synchronous design offers programmable burst length and latencies, which is useful for high bandwidth and high permanence systems.

Finally, the H10 utilizes a Seagate ST1 5 GByte mass storage device for storing the music on the MP3 player. The ST1 uses a single one-inch 5 GByte disc drive, which features 'RunOn Technology', 'G-Force Protection' and allows enormous amounts of digital data to be stored. With 'low-power' modes and a two second 'time-to-ready' specification, the ST1 is ideal for PDAs and MP3 players alike. 'RunOn' technology allows seamless working conditions during high-movement scenarios, while the 'G-Force Protection' adds an additional layer of stability to the system, which is well suited for MP3 players in general. The ST1 also uses a 2 MByte buffer, which rivals desktop PCs, to enhance media streaming performance from the hard drive.

Article content extracted from Semiconductor Insights' MP3 Player Design Win subscription service. Visit Semiconductor Insights at www.semiconductor.com.