Skip to main content

Router SoC 101

Chipset Vendors: MediaTek

Taiwanese chipset manufacturer MediaTek started out in the optical drive and home entertainment segments, then moved to dominate the smartphone and mobile chipset markets. In 2011, the company bought Wi-Fi chipset manufacturer Ralink, whose chips could be found in every router vendor's devices, marking its entry into the networking chipset space. Ralink itself had previously purchased its major competitor TrendChip in 2010, acquiring ADSL SoC expertise.

MediaTek Router SoCs

MediaTek's integrated SoC offering, the MT7623A/N, was announced in Q2 2015, with optimizations for audio/video streaming. With a storage accelerator and the OpenWrt standard, this chip has the flexibility to enable very capable NAS setups as well.

Intended for IoT gateways and media routers, the MT7683 was announced in Q3 2015, and it differs from the MT7623A/N systems in some key areas—noticeably, the introduction of a Mali 450 GPU. This allows the 7683 to display the status of connected IoT devices on a monitor or TV. IoT control is provided by the MT7687 SoC, MediaTek's first ARM Cortex-M4-based IoT Wi-Fi solution.

The MT7683/23 chips support a number of content streams over cable, Bluetooth and BLE for wearable devices. NFC is enabled for quick setup. Wi-Fi is delivered via the powerful 802.11ac Wave 2 MTC7615 transceiver, announced in Q1 2015.

A power-efficient IoT SoC, the MT7687, was announced in Q2 2015. With a maximum power output of 21 dBm, this chip works as a stand-alone IoT gateway or with the MT7683 as a powerful smart-home solution.

Model NumberYearProcessor Specs Wireless SpecsAdditional CapabilitiesUsed In
MT7623A/N, MT7683, MT76872015Quad-core 1.3GHz ARM Cortex-AEmbedded 1x1 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi + BluetoothIntegrated MT6625L Radio5p GbE SW, RGMII and TRGMII32b LPDDR2/DDR3/L up to 2GBSPI, NAND Flash, SDXC, eMMCUSB 3.0(2), USB 2.0 OTGPCIe 2.0 Host(3)I2C, UART(4), SPIs, GPIOsAudio interface: SPDIF, I2S(32b, 384Kb), PCMHW storage accelerator (Samba> 100MB/s)2 Gb/s IPv4/6 routing, NAT, NAPT+HQoS, Packet SamplingHW Crypto Engine ~400-500 Mb/s IPSec throughputUnknown as of yet
MT7621 A/N/S2015200MHz ARM Cortex M4F1x1 802.11 b/g/n embedded, IoTIntegrated security engineOpen SDKUnknown as of yet
MT7621 A/S/N2014Dual-core MIPS1004Kc 880MHz (Single core on the S/N variants)3x PCIe Hosts802.11ac Wi-Fi with transceivers MT7612E+MT7603E (AC1200 config) or 2xMT7615(AC2600 config)5p GbE SW+RGMII16b DDR2/3 up to 256/512MBSPI(2 CS), NAND Flash, SDXC, eMMC, USBHW storage acceleratorHW Crypto EngineBuffalo AirStation WSR-1166DHPD-Link DIR-860L rev B1Linksys RE6500Asus RT-N56U B1Netgear WNDR3700v5
MT7620 A/N2013MIPS 24KEc 580MHzIntegrated 2x2:2 802.11 b/g/nSupport external PA/LNA5p FE SW+RGMII(2)16b SDR/DDR1/DDR2 up to 256MBSPI, NAND Flash, SDXC, eMMCUSB 2.0 Host/DeviceAsus DSL-N16UBuffalo WHR-300HP2D-Link DIR-810L rev B1Linksys EA6100Netgear R6050TP-Link Archer C20iTRENDnet TEW-810DRCamera - Belkin F7D7602 v2Repeater  bridge - Linksys RE2000 v23G mobile router - NetComm 4GM3W-01
MT7628 A/K/N2015MIPS24KEc 575/580MHz2T2R 802.11n 2.4GHzSupport external PA/LNA5p FE SW or 1p IoT mode16-bit DDR1/DDR2 up to 256MBMT7628A: full functions with external DRAMMT7628K: embedded 8MB DRAM and L-shape 2L PCBMT7628N: same as MT7628A, w/o PCIe, w/o IoT modeAsus RT-AC1200
MT7510/MT75112014/2015MIPS 34Kc 750MHz1x PCIe HostFour-port Fast Ethernet Switch1x GbETRGMII and RGMI interface for external LAN devicesPCM for VoIPSmart Packet AcceleratorAsus DSL-N17UAsus DSL-AC68UAsus DSL-N16Asus DSL-N17U B1

MediaTek's most popular offerings are MIPS-based SoCs. The MT7621 A/N/S powers everything from mid-tier routers to access points. Another comprehensive low- to mid-range SoC, the MT7620, is also used in a variety of networking applications, and is extremely popular across all market segments. The MT7628 family is an update to the popular 7620.

An integrated xDSL (VDSL2/ADSL2+ IAD) and router solution, the MT751x series, is designed for a flexible networking system design, also containing a little bit of everything. Interestingly, these chips adopt a twin-CPU solution consisting of a 32-bit MIPS CPU and an xDSL Discrete Multi-Tone (DMT) engine.

Although Ralink was absorbed by MediaTek, its last few chips were showing up in routers as late as 2013. And the sheer number of devices powered by Ralink silicon means you can't quite forget about the company's SoCs. The 6855 was the last Ralink chip to show up for FCC approval in 2013. Both the 6856 and the 6855 were powered by the dual-core MIPS 34KEc 700 processor. The RT63XXX family of xDSL router SoCs were still being used for new devices as late as 2014 by a loyal TP-Link (in one case, married to a MediaTek transceiver; TP-Link's TD-W8951ND v6 was powered by Ralink's RT63365E and MediaTek's MT7601E).

  • 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