The RK31xx is a dual core Cortex A9 product designed for tablets and smartphones. Using Globalfoundries' high-k 28-nm process, “we can reduce cost, gain performance, but most importantly, we will reduce power consumption for tablets,” said Chen. “This gives us a better chance for competing against MediaTek,” which uses TSMC's more conservative process node.
When we met Chen in early September, he had just returned from London, where he picked up 28-nm wafers fabricated at Globalfoundries in Dresden, Germany, and hand-delivered hurriedly to Chen at Heathrow airport. Chen said couldn’t afford to wait for the wafers to be shipped to China. “We’re driven to ‘narrow’ the time-to-market cycle,” Chen explained.
Compare Rockchip’s RK31xx to MediaTek’s MT6577, a smartphone platform launched in late June: MediaTek’s apps processor uses a similar dual-core Cortex-A9, but features a PowerVR Series5 SGX GPU from Imagination Technologies. The MT6577, fabricated by using TSMC's 40-nm process technology, has been in the active design-in phase with lead customers for almost three months.
Chen is betting that Rockchip can leverage Globalfoundries' 28-nm HKMG process to help persuade customers to stay with the company and not switch to MediaTek.
Global tablet shipment, penetration forecast
The global battle over media tablets continues to heat up. Tablets sales are expected to surpass notebook PCs at 2016.
Source: Display Search, 2012
Rockchip is not a new company specifically created to chase the popular market. Founded in 2001, the privately-held company started as a developer of digital ICs based on a programmable MCU for digital cassette players used in language training. Rockchip patented software that allows a cassette player to play back voice and repeat it at different speeds without changing tone. Rockchip still holds a 70 percent share of that digital audio cassette player educational market.
Prior to establishing Rockchip, its two founders were neither chip designers nor so-called “sea turtles” returning from the U.S. The company's first digital ICs were designed by Samsung and manufactured by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) here. By the time Rockchip became known as a MP3 player chip supplier, the company relied heavily on Synopsys for front-end chip design and worked with SMIC on the back-end.