China’s HW engineering lead: The Rockchip RK292 series (RK2928 and RK2926) example

It was totally unexpected for a US company starting a new device project in China back in 2007 what kind of support network of vendors and designers was available for them in Taiwan or just across the water from Taiwan on the mainland. Here is an authentic recollection of that experience:

WHERE THE MIDDLE CLASS MANUFACTURING JOBS GO? [David Dehghan’s tumblr microblog, Feb 5, 2012]

This NY times article [How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work, Jan 21, 2012] is a great example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now. From personal experience I can confirm all the point made in this article with respect to electronics manufacturing.

A few years a go [according to this and that it was around 2007] we were building a new phone and a special base station for it at Microsoft.

We designed most of the electrical and mechanical parts in Taiwan because that was where the support network of vendors and designers existed around you. If you wanted a new PCB board re-designed and manufactured it would be ready for you within hours. That would have taken a week in US. In Xiamen (just across the water from Taiwan on the mainland) we designed and built the special base station for the phone. When we wanted to select cables and connectors we just called the sales rep from the neighboring factory and he was in our meeting room within 30 min. We didn’t like what they had and we called another one he too was there within 30 min. With samples and designs in hand. Whatever we wanted they could manufacture within a day. It was pretty incredible.
Also the quality of craftsmanship was very high. People took care of producing the PCB boards and plastic phone enclosures we had ordered. The vendor network had all the latest prototyping and design equipment you could think of. There was no reason to get out of Taiwan or south of China for anything. They would beat any one on price, flexibility, and quick turnaround.
There is zero chance you can bring that echo system back to US or western world. There is never ending supply of cheap, qualified and trained manufacturing workers coming from inland China.
Now lets continue our debates about same sex marriage, abortion and border guards. Or Tibo, or whatever the hell his name is.

Five years later we have now a significant evolution from that when China has not only manufacturing lead in the digital products, but engineering lead as well, and along the whole value chain, from designing the SoCs to the finished products themselves! Mainland China could even rely on itself in all that.

Here is a very recent video showing the latest results of leading hardware engineering from mainland China: the Rockchip RK2928 specifically developed for the $40 and up entry level market of 2013 Android tablets, which was just first shown on the HKTDC in October 13, and here they have the first tablets on show already:

$49 RK2928 7″, $95 RK3066 8″ and other tablets by Firstview [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 24, 2012]

I show around some of the latest tablets by Firstview.

Major learning for me here: with the IPS screen the cost is only $6 more.

FirstView (ShenZhen FirstView Electronic Co.,Ltd.) is one of the typical midsize factories in Shenzhen with 200-300 actual employees, established in beginning of last decade (2001 actually), growing from simpler digital products like MP players, photo frames, digital cameras etc., but now producing mostly tablet PCs, netbooks etc. with production capacity of 10,000pcs-20,000pcs of finished products per day and exporting worldwide as described in their “About” page titled still Jing Han Optronics_Tablet PC _ books _ Digital Photo Frame _MP4 player _MP3 play:

We are proud of our internationalism— 80% of our products are sold to developed countries in Europe and the Americas with the remaining 20% being sold in Asia, Africa and domestically. All of our products get the ROHS, CE, FC C Certificate. Having been cooperating with world-famous companies, such as Wal-mart, we are able to keep up with the latest international trends.

Companies like FirstView have quite broad, quite price competitive products which technologically always represent the latest advances. How are they able to achieve that given not really big resources, especially in terms of engineering.

Let’s look at this from the example of the latest Rockchip SoCs through the whole engineering and manufacturing chain:

A single core Terminator: Rockchip launched the strongest single-core chip RK2928 on the 2012 Hong Kong Electronics Fair [Rockchip press release in Chinese, Oct 18, 2012] as translated by Google and Bing with all the necessary manual editions:

The annual Hong Kong Electronics Fair was held between October 13 and 16, 2012 in Hong Kong, as scheduled. As a world-renowned exhibition, each electronic exhibition will attract many domestic and foreign firms, and the media are invited to attend on a grand scale. The famous RK3066 chip brand was launched on the 2012 Hong Kong Electronics Fair in April, and Rockchip was again to bring new products to participate in the 2012 Hong Kong Electronics Fair.

Single-core Terminator chips: the RK292 series

On the current Electronics Fair Rockchip showcased its latest research and development of a new chip series – the RK292 series. Compared to the classic generation of RK29 series, the RK292 series chips are designed for the single-core Cortex A9 architecture and 1GB DDR3 memory, with which there will be nearly 30% increase in performance compared to the previous generation.

image

The parameters of RK292 series chips

The series RK292 chips are upgrade products of the RK29 series, mainly for the low-end market, changing the Cortex-A8 architecture by turning to the popular Cortex A9 architecture. This has been done in such a way that while the performance is increased significantly, however the power consumption has been reduced compared to the previous generation. As such it can be described as a single core Terminator. It is understood that products equipped with the Rockchip single core solutions, aimed primarily for the European and developing countries markets, will become the lowest cost offerings among the industry’s single-core tablet solutions [said to be here and here aimed at $40 and up tablet price, ?probably in quantities of at least 1000?].

imageTablet equipped with the RK2928 chip [shown at HKTDC]

imageTablet equipped with the RK2926 chip [shown at HKTDC]

The RK2928 parameters in English from here:

image

Cheap Killer Strikes – Rockchip launched RK2926, RK2928 for Android Tablet PC [TabletPCPhones.com blog, Oct 17, 2012]

… RK2926/RK2928 is updated from RK2918, and they are changed in the old architecture of previous generation products, using the new Cortex-A9 architecture, support DDR3 and DDR3L [from the above parameter sheets it looks like that DDR3L is just for RK2928], and built-in Audio CODEC, LVDS have DVFS-power adjustment, you can support MLC NAND / E-MMC and i-NAND flash memory. RK2926 and RK2928 chips are slightly different in terms of functionality, the latter has integrated support of the HDMI 1.4a Controller and GPS baseband. In addition, both packages are different, the RK2926 chip uses LQP176 package, while the RK2928 chip using the BGA313 package. …

Currently Rockchip, located in the exhibition area 1CON, has shown the prototype Tablet PC of RK2926/RK2928, but because of IP licensing confidentiality, clocked graphics core specific configuration can’t be disclosed, but also no detailed performance test. Just from the point of view of the experience to get started, compared to the previous RK2918 Tablet PC operation,  the fluency has improved, casual game can smooth run in prototype at the same time, and you would not feel a significant fever situation, the overall experience is still good for entry-level tablet PC market, this performance should be considered good. …

About the Rockchip company and especially about the immediately preceding generation RK9218 SoC, as well as their current flagship RK3066, you can find plenty of information in MWC 2012: Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics [this same blog, March 13, 2012]

Now a mid-size video about Rockchip RK2928 and RK2926 launched at the HKTDC Electronics Fair [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 13, 2012] with the Marketing Vice-President of Rockchip, Chen Feng:

Rockchip Vice-President Chen Feng presents their new single-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC for cheaper, faster, lower power consuming tablets! They call it the Single-core Terminator. They simplify to lower the cost of the SoC thus of the entry-level ARM Powered device all the while improving the performance to provide for better entry-levels tablets. Contact details for Rockchip are at: http://armdevices.net/2012/10/13/rockchip-rk2928-and-rk2926-launched-at-the-hktdc-electronics-fair/

– RK2928 is [0:16] “so far the best performance single core product” [0:20]
– RK2928/26: [0:50] “next year tens of millions of these chip’s products” [0:55]
for the RK3066 and above market [1:14] “soon we will have the 28nm chip [version] coming out, lower the cost, higher performance, lower power. And at the end of the year we will have four-core 28nm product coming out.” [1:30]
the GPU in RK2928/RK2926 [2:18] “is a mystery … but there is a good GPU here” [2:24]
– regarding the smartphone market [9:10] “We have a very long view for that market. So we are also doing baseband but it’s … We’re always working on it. But when it will be our main business we will carefully seek. [9:29]
– [10:52] “We want to get into the notebook [too], so … Once the software environment getting mature, that the Android and more mobile people write applications on the platform. So sooner or later the software won’t be an issue, but [the issue becomes] how you can make the best [notebook] product. … There are rumors on the market Microsoft might port Office to Android, right? [11:44]

PCB Design House: Rockchip RK3066/RK2926 at Shenzhen Inpad Digital Technology [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 21, 2012]

– When did you get RK2926 in house? [2:30] “We got it 1st of October. … Made PCB in 2 weeks only. [2:49]
– [5:02] How can you as company optimize the price [making] low, and power [too]? How can the team to do that, how you do this?  [6:39] “Basically they [a separate team] communicate with the customer to understand their requirements, and based on that requirement they will choose the right component or do the right design for the customer. And also to simplify the design and process, so they can cut off the cost. [7:00]
– [10:03] So how many people work here? [10:06] “About 40 people. … About 30 engineers, 10 sales and our working staff.” [10:27]
– [10:26] So you are a PCB Design House. You get the CPU from Rockchip, you put that into PCB, and then work with the SMT, OEM, manufacturer? [10:37] “Yes” Different companies? [10:39] “Yes” So you work together? [10:41] “Yes”
– [10:44] How many PCBs are made with your design every year? [11:04] “More than one million.” Different manufacturers, not only one? [11:10] “Different” All in Shezhen? [11:15] “No … Some customers are in other provinces.” [11:24]

China Fabless: Rockchip rattled by Android tablet wars [Junko Yoshida at EE Times, Sept 25, 2012]

Just nine months ago, Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics, a developer of apps processor for tablets, looked almost invincible. …

… since then, the Android-based media tablet market has gotten far more competitive. By volume, the Android tablet sector has grown to an estimated 80 million units, outpacing the 75 million iPads sold by Apple thus far, according to estimates by Rockchip [marketing] vice president Feng Chen.

At the beginning of 2012, the target price of a 7-inch capacitive screen media tablet featuring Cortex-A8 was $99. That price has since dropped to around $65, due largely to Allwinner, a red-hot Chinese fabless company that has flooded the tablet market with its own turnkey system. … Rockchip’s situation vividly illustrates the challenges most Chinese fabless chip companies now face.

Notes regarding Allwinner:
#1 After checking a number of SoCs for a Linux and FLOSS related, it was found [on Dec 14, 2011] by a UK based platform initiative that Allwinner A10 – ARM Cortex A8 SoC… has been developed in, and is sold in, the People’s Republic of China. Its mass-volume price is around $7, yet it is a 400-pin highly feature-rich 1.2ghz ARM Cortex A8 with a MALI400 GPU. It has the distinction of having the highest bang-per-buck ratio of any SoC available at the time of writing, by quite a margin. Its price and features is causing massive disruption of the tablet market in China (a minor recession was caused by widespread cancellation of prior committments to other SoCs!), as every factory in Shenzen scrambles to compete with hundreds of other factories for the same end-user market: tablets and PVRs.
For comparison: TI has brought out a new $5 ARM Cortex A8, but it is limited to 500mhz and it is extra cost for the version with a PowerVR 3D GPU. Ingenic’s jz4770 is about $7 in mass-volume but it is a 1ghz MIPS with a Vivante GC600 3D GPU. Details are harder to get hold of regarding the jz4770, but its interfaces are known not as feature-rich as the Allwinner (no HDMI output for example). AMLogic’s Cortex A9 is $13 in mass-volume, but is limited to 800mhz and a maximum of 512mb of RAM. …”
#2 At the end of February it was reported from China that: “Based on high cost performance, Allwinner A10 has good sales after the Spring Festival. The chips with high cost performance are welcome. … RockChip chips became cheaper and cheaper since Allwinner released A10. As the first chip of Allwinner, A10 is released with cheap price, which makes it has good sales. Allwinner is a famous company in MP3 times so that Allwinner has a strong customer base. In addition, A10 has few bugs since it is released. The performance of other chips is not stable in the beginning, such as RK2808 and VIA8505.
The agents who have ordered VIA chips go to order Allwinner A10. VIA will release VIA8850 next month [but mass production just started in June, see later] which is based on A9 core. The performance is not different from A10. It means that it does not have any advantage. VIA8850 will be cheaper than Allwinner A10. Allwinner will release A13 to compete with VIA8850 so that VIA will get in a difficult position. [Was more expensive than the [$5 priced] A13 when mass production started in June]”

During a recent interview with EE Times here, Rockchip’s Chen said, “This is a new world war we’re fighting.” … Indeed, nearly every apps processor [sic, SoC] vendor here is in a rough spot because “the time-to-market requirement has gotten much shorter,” he noted. “Worse, catching the market rhythm or cycle — at the right time – has become much harder.”

“… now, as end-product cycles get shorter, we do everything from designing a chip to developing a board and software that goes around the hardware — literally within a couple of months,” he explained. In March, for example, Rockchip started to design its delivered samples of RK3066, a dual-core Cortex A9 chip with a quad-core Mali-400 GPU. By April [15], it hustled to showcase sample tablets based on the chip at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair. By May, the company began shipping the new apps processor to its customers.

Note regarding the timing of RK3066 SoC development:
– The initial version of RK3066 datasheet brief is dated Oct 30, 2011. the 1.0 version of it February 15, 2012.
– The RK30xx platform was announced on Feb 27, 2012 with information that “Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor with up to 1.4GHz speed, implemented with Artisan Processor Optimization Pack (POP)” and that “Samples of the Rockchip RK30xx platform will be available in March 2012.”

Unlike other startups here, Rockchip has been profitable from the start. But as the tablet battle heats up, it also needs to find a way to move to the next level. “We are fighting a world war. We need the world’s top talent.”
The company also needs access to capital. Without it, Rockchip can’t even think about mergers or acquisitions. Organic growth alone won’t get it to the next level, Chen acknowledge, saying he expects consolidation in the Chinese fabless sector but “no Chinese companies want to give up.”
Lastly, Chen said, “We need to be clear on the market” so that Rockchip can choose its battles.

Factory Tour: Allwinner A10 PCB SMT line at the Jia Chuang Bo factory [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 20, 2012]

This video shows how the Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 PCBs are being finalized, fixed, checked before they are inserted in the cheap Android tablets on the floor above. Contact details for this company are available at: http://armdevices.net

SMT = Surface-mount technology

Factory Tour: $61 [in quantity of 1000] Allwinner A13 9″ Tablet being assembled at Jia Chuang Bo [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 19, 2012]

This is where we are now. The 9″ 16:9 capacitive Android tablet is $61. Based on the super cheap Allwinner A13 (no hdmi) system on chip, this is the assembly and boxing line. Contact details for this company are available at: http://armdevices.net

Factory Tour: 9.7″ IPS 3G Allwinner A10 Tablet for $152 being assembled by Jia Chuang Bo [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 19, 2012]

They are assembling right now some 10.1″ and 9.7″ Allwinner A10 tablets on this assembly line. Contact details for this company are available at: http://armdevices.net … a new model … very slim … with 3G … without 3G $135

Jia Chuang Bo future products [Charbax YouTube channel, Oct 19, 2012]

They got $105 10.1″ 1024×600 RK3066, $115 10.1″ 1280×800 IPS RK3066, compact A10/A13 with 3G and more. A10 with ?IPS display?$135. … $30 plus for 3G. … chepeast A10 with standard industry design for $43 … full capacity: 100K units per month (also at another place, while at the place seen in the videos 30K/month)

SHENZHEN JCB TECHNOLOGY CO.LTD [March 14, 2011]

HAICHUANG TECHNOLOGY (HK)CO., LIMITED   registered in HONGKONG, which is the head office of SHENZHEN  JIA CHUANG BO Technology CO.LTD.

SHENZHEN JIA CHUANG BO TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD , founded in 2001, which is a professional factory in designing, researching, manufacturing and marketing computer peripherals. We focus mainly on MID/Tablet PC and Media players. Now we have a workshop of 3,000 square meters and employ more than 300 staffs.

We uphold advanced management philosophy, adopt flexible management model, focus on R&D, and has strong brand awareness, independent intellectual property awareness and quality control awareness. which makes us get into overseas market successfully such as North America, South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Midlle East, Western Europe.
Attaching great importance to quality, our company applies ISO9001:2000 standards in purchase of material, R&D, production, inspection and sales. Environmental testing and reliability testing are also part of our standard procedure. Professional R&D team and efficient production team provide a solid foundation for our high-quality products. Quality has always been our first priority. All of our products have passed CE, FCC related certifications. all employees recognize that quality is the life of enterprises and the core of competitiveness. Before all the products entering your market, all the finished products must undergo ten-minute pass vibration test and eight-hour aging test.
We also offer OEM/ODM products and we pride ourselves on the ability to stay up-to-date in the rapidly changing market. OEM orders are welcome. We offer OEM/ODM services. Our R&D engineers can develop one new item in one week as your requirements. We have an innovative R&D team that is dedicated to meeting your requirements specifically.
Because of the good reputation and perfect pre-sale/in-sale and after-sales services, we have established the long-term and stable strategic partnership with many famous suppliers at home and abroad.
Our service  “Excellent Quality, First-Class Service, Best Price” is our working tenet.we take honest as the best policy and customer is the god as our business principle .
Your trustworthy partner, is looking forward to establishing win-win business relationship with new friends all over the world.

You can also browse through their current products (only MIDs/tablets now from 7” to 10”).

About Nacsa Sándor

Lazure Kft. • infokommunikációs felhő szakértés • high-tech marketing • elérhetőség: snacsa@live.com Okleveles villamos és automatizálási mérnök (1971) Munkahelyek: Microsoft, EMC, Compaq és Digital veterán. Korábban magyar cégek (GDS Szoftver, Computrend, SzáMOK, OLAJTERV). Jelenleg Lazure Kft. Amire szakmailag büszke vagyok (időrendben visszafelé): – Microsoft .NET 1.0 … .NET 3.5 és Visual Studio Team System bevezetések Magyarországon (2000 — 2008) – Digital Alpha technológia vezető adatközponti és vállalati szerver platformmá tétele (másokkal együttes csapat tagjaként) Magyarországon (1993 — 1998) – Koncepcionális modellezés (ma használatos elnevezéssel: domain-driven design) az objektum-orientált programozással kombinált módon (1985 — 1993) – Poszt-graduális képzés a miniszámítógépes szoftverfejlesztés, konkurrens (párhuzamos) programozás és más témákban (1973 — 1984) Az utóbbi időben általam művelt területek: ld. lazure2.wordpress.com (Experiencing the Cloud) – Predictive strategies based on the cyclical nature of the ICT development (also based on my previous findings during the period of 1978 — 1990) – User Experience Design for the Cloud – Marketing Communications based on the Cloud
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3 Responses to China’s HW engineering lead: The Rockchip RK292 series (RK2928 and RK2926) example

  1. Pingback: MWC 2012: Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics | Experiencing the Cloud

  2. Pingback: Boosting both the commodity and premium brand markets in 2013 with much more smartphones and tablets while the Windows notebook shipments will shrink by 2% | Experiencing the Cloud

  3. very impressive. I actually bought one 7″ tablet based on RockChip 2926 in Dec 2012 during my trip to China for $63 CAD. Altohugh not a top performing tablet, but it is not bad at all.

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