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Router SoC 101

Chipset Vendors: Qualcomm

Atheros absorbed Airgo Networks in 2006, making it a heavyweight in the wireless domain. Qualcomm, originally not a player in the commercial networking field, announced a takeover of Atheros in 2011, and Atheros became a subsidiary named Qualcomm Atheros. Qualcomm Atheros went on to acquire Ubicom for its SoC IP in 2012, and Wilocity in 2014 for its 802.11ad expertise. Another interesting Qualcomm Atheros acquisition from September 2011—Bigfoot Networks, a manufacturer of networking solutions for gaming applications—struck out on its own as Rivet Networks. Its SoCs and NICs are marketed under Killer Networking's name, and show up in high-performance gaming motherboards.

Qualcomm Router SoCs

The IPQ40X8/X9 is Qualcomm's latest Wave 2 MU-MIMO SoC. Because it was introduced in October 2015, information on this chipset is still scarce. But we do have some of its specifications.

The A/IPQ806X chipset family is designed to enable "smart-home" platforms, and it borrows from the MSM8974's mobile pedigree to do it. The 2012 APQ8064 used the same Snapdragon S4 processor as the MSM8974 and had a 3G/4G modem, whereas the IPQ8064/62 looks more like a traditional router platform but with a plethora of slots and ports, as well as SDIO support.

Model NumberYearProcessor Specs Wireless SpecsAdditional CapabilitiesUsed In
IPQ40X8/X92015Quad-core 1.4GHz ARM Cortex-A9Twin 2x2 integrated radios (1.73 Gb/s max PHY rate)USB 3.0, PCIe, SD/eMMC ports/slotsLTE supportUnknown as of yet
A/IPQ806X  FAMILY2014ARMv7 Compatible2x Krait 300 1.4GHz/1GHz3x PCIe PortsSDIOSATA 6Gb/s, 2x USB 3.0 + HSIC, xGMII, DDR3, SDIO, Crypto accelerator (AES/3DES/SHA)NAND supportASRock G10Compex AP148Linksys E8350 and EA8500Netgear D7800, R7500, R7500v2TP-Link Archer C2600 v1.x
QC401X, QCA4531X2015MIPS 24Kc 650MHzBuilt-in Wi-Fi (802.11n, 2x2 MIMO for the QCA4531)Up to 128MB DDR2/DDR1 RAM, up to 16MB NOR flashUSB 2.0 host, UART, JTAG, PCIeAllJoyn framework (Qualcomm proprietary)OpenWRT12 GPIO lanes, up to 5 (4+1) FE Ethernet PortsUnknown as of yet
QCA95XX Family2013/2014MIPS 74Kc 750MHz (Slower in earlier models)Built-in Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n, 3x3 MIMO)PCIe host, USB 2.0 host,Integrated FE switchBelkin F9K1115 v2Buffalo WZR-450HP2DD-Link DGL-5500 Linksys EA4500 v3Netgear WNR2500TP-Link Archer C5 v1.xNetgear WNDR4300v2 TP-Link Archer C7 v1.x

We wouldn't normally include the QC401X and QCA4531 chipsets, since they're targeted at low-power devices for IoT networks, but their newness merits a mention. Qualcomm’s newest WiSoCs, the low-end RTOS-driven QCA401X family and the QCA4531 SoC that runs OpenWrt Linux, support the AllJoyn IoT standard running off a 650MHz, MIPS 24Kc-based processor.

A very popular chipset family, the QCA95xx was introduced in 2013 and was refreshed in 2014. It's found in routers from pretty much every vendor.

Qualcomm Transceivers

The QCA9880 is a 3x3 dual-band radio chip introduced in 2013. It's meant to be paired with the QCA9558 SoC, providing up to 1.7 Gb/s. It is used in various routers, including Cisco's DPC3941; D-Link's DIR-859, DIR-862L and DIR-863; Linksys' E8350; Netgear's C6300 and R7500; and TP-Link Archer's C5, C7, D7, TGR1900 and TL-WDR7500.

The QCA9882 is a 2x2 dual-band radio chip introduced in 2013; its the QCA9880's "little brother," despite its higher model number, and it complements the QCA9880 for home networking. The QCA9890 and QCA9892 are their counterparts for enterprise solutions. The QCA9882 is rated for up to 1.3 Gb/s and is used in various routers, including Asus' RT-AC55U and RT-AC55UHP; D-Link's DAP-2660 and DGL-5500; and Netgear's D6200, JR6100, R6000 and R6100.

In the same family, the QCA9890 and the QCA9892 were also introduced in 2013 as 2x2 and 3x3 dual-band radio chips. They both provide up to 1.3 Gb/s utilizing the 802.11ac standard. The difference between them lies in their number of streams. QCA9890 is the "bigger" of the two, complementing chips for enterprise solutions featuring three streams. The QCA9890 only offers two streams. The QCA9890 has been used in AirTight Networks C-75 and -E, as well as Gateworks Ventana GW3056.

The QCA9860 and the QCA9862 are stand-alone combo chips that complement the above families of radio chips introduced in 2013. The bigger of the couple is the QCA9860, offering three streams, whereas the smaller one, the QCA9862, only offers two. Both reach up to 1.3 Gb/s. Unlike the QCA9880/82 and QCA9890/92, which are meant to be paired with an SoC solution, the QCA9860 and QCA9862 are stand-alone SoCs.

  • letapragas
    Awesome job!
    Reply
  • zodiacfml
    Intel do use one of their chips for a similar device.
    Reply
  • QuangT
    Nice article, is there any more on how tech works? Like cpu and gpu?
    Reply
  • bwhiten
    Uhhhh...Those first pictures are not "schematics". They are CAD renderings of the box and main board at best, but definitely not schematics.
    Reply
  • EdJulio
    Uhhhh...Those first pictures are not "schematics". They are CAD renderings of the box and main board at best, but definitely not schematics.

    Thanks, bwhiten. Updated the caption...
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Nice article!

    Small, irrelevant fact: MIPS was once owned by SGI and used in their servers and workstations. They even used a MIPS CPU in the N64, which they designed for Nintendo. In fact, that was largely the outcome of a previous (if not the first) wave of VR hype. But, I digress...

    Also, most people consider ARM to be RISC. Or, at least as much as anything is, these days. Indeed, the name once stood for Advanced RISC Machines.

    But I didn't know what MIPS originally stood for, so thanks for that. I wonder whether or how long that remained true of their architectures.
    Reply
  • EdJulio
    17548227 said:
    Nice article!

    Small, irrelevant fact: MIPS was once owned by SGI and used in their servers and workstations. They even used a MIPS CPU in the N64, which they designed for Nintendo. In fact, that was largely the outcome of a previous (if not the first) wave of VR hype. But, I digress...

    Also, most people consider ARM to be RISC. Or, at least as much as anything is, these days.

    Thanks! I'll share this with Gene! Cheers!!!
    Reply
  • bit_user
    17548234 said:
    Thanks! I'll share this with Gene! Cheers!!!
    Thanks, but I did say it was irrelevant. It really has no bearing on the routers using these chips.
    Reply
  • GeneFabron
    Nice article, is there any more on how tech works? Like cpu and gpu?

    Hi QuangT, we have a Wireless Routers 101 http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/wireless-routers-101,4456.html and a PSUs 101 http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/power-supplies-101,4193.html article, and there will be more coming soon!
    Reply
  • Gabriel_1965
    Question: I've seen a router with 72 cores would that be made to be a 72 core pic and I could use the cores for multi ore computing?
    Reply