Tech Leadership

Chip Stacks Bring Smartphone Features to More Consumers

on Dec 30, 2021

An illustrative image of uMCP set to be the new shining light in mobile memory.

It’s an exciting time in the smartphone industry for two reasons. Firstly, the flagship devices are becoming more high-end, challenging the capabilities of standalone cameras, streaming devices – even computers. Meanwhile, the mid-range smartphone tier is now becoming more competitive. Many features previously considered to be premium are now available to more people than ever before: AI, high quality photography, 5G, 4K video recording. The smartphone is now democratized and it’s all down to the way it is manufactured and the increasingly capably chips hidden inside.

A major innovation from Samsung is one of the key tools in the battle to make smartphones smarter, more powerful and more energy efficient without being too bulky. The company was an innovator in uMCP and its most recent iteration received a CES Innovation Award. It will open the door for cutting edge features to arrive on smartphones, such as high resolution 4K and 6K screens. But it will also bring more top-tier performance and features to mid-range devices.

uMCP is a memory combo that stacks two chips on top of each other – a DRAM (LPDDR) and NAND (Universal Flash Storage) into a single package. The components on their own can be powerful, particularly when manufactured by a leading semiconductor firm. But in the configuration found in uMCP solutions, it brings additional benefits. For smartphones and other devices that rely on a miniature profile, pairing vital components in this way is useful for integrating the parts, while making good use of space.

The uMCP journey started out with the use of UFS on the Samsung Galaxy S6. Its ability to deliver high read/write speeds, especially for data intensive applications such as capturing video, makes it a popular choice for flagship smartphones. Combining UFS into a single package with a low power DRAM makes space for other components or features in the devices, or can simply serve to make devices smaller. Either way, it delivers a high standard of versatility for devices.

Currently, eMCP rules the roost when it comes to mobile memory. It has the same small footprint advantage of uMCP, which has been vital in bringing new features to mid-range smartphones. However, it does have its shortcomings. eMCP can either write or read at once, it can’t do both simultaneously, whereas uMCP can do both. eMCP already has critical mass in the marketplace, having been widely used since 2014. But this is changing. According to market analyst Counterpoint, we’re currently seeing a tipping point whereby uMCP is gaining favour and will continue to do so, ultimately replacing eMCP technology. Counterpoint’s figures suggest a 13% market share by 2023.

New solutions

PoP is the conventional method for manufacturing the memory found in mobile phones. In this configuration, the separate components are sited next to each other instead of stacked one on top of the other. PoP configurations do have an advantage in that separate LPDDR and UFS allow for better performance. That’s because PoP has four channels while uMCP has two. This is why PoP is primarily used for flagship devices.

uMCP is the memory solution that works for a broad range of devices – including those that fall outside of the high-end category. And performance is improving all the time. Take the latest solution from Samsung, for example. It combines UFS 3.1 storage with an LP5 DRAM. Flagship smartphones are looking for points of differentiation, with 70% now sporting UFS 3.0. UFS 3.1 supports Gear4 2-lane at 12Gbps. It also supports Turbo Write features and the JEDEC standard, which represents progress from UFS 2.1. With smartphone manufacturers seeking the best ROI on future devices, uMCP will be a huge boon.

Now, more than ever, smartphones are about performance. And with new resource-hungry features being introduced all the time across all device classes, manufacturers are assessing the ways to deliver functionality against cost and form factor. uMCP is gaining attention across the board as a way to introduce top tier specifications to the masses and at the same time, add excitement to both mid-range and flagship devices of tomorrow.

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