The amazing Chinese factory for the production of Spreadtrum chips is almost unknown in Russia, and in China its products can be found everywhere. Why?
At the dawn of the smartphone industry, the issue of data transmission 'over the air' arose. As always, if the need is already ripe and there is an opportunity to implement it technically, it turns into a technology and goes through the stage of standardization. This was the reason for the indomitable growth of Spreadtrum, but first things first.
Chairman Leo Li (right) opens Spreadtrum Innovation Center in Santa Rosa, California
Mobile Internet as we know it came about thanks to the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) set of standards developed by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI). A third-party telecommunications equipment manufacturer that wants to enter the global mobile market, including manufacturers of filling for our cell phones, must be licensed by UMTS and pay. Moreover, he has to pay further if he wants to do business in this area. Such a peremptory statement of the question caused a seething among the then young and inexperienced entrepreneurs from China. Seething was also in the Chinese government, which wanted to completely control the information flow, but could not do it using overseas 3G equipment. The consequences were wonderful – the emergence of an independent Chinese communication standard (a kind of analogue of the European 3G) in the form of TD-SCDMA. The standard did not offer any advantages in terms of the quality of communication and the speed of information transfer, but it allowed not to pay “greedy” Europeans for licensing. The flip side of the matter is the complete incompatibility of Chinese phones with cellular equipment in Europe and the United States. The persistence of the Chinese comrades in liberating the Asian region from the first shoots of 3G and replacing them with their own, led to the fact that TD-SCDMA data transmission technology was introduced into UMTS of the fourth edition after the fact.
What does Spreadtrum have to do with it? The company began as a manufacturer of chips for GSM phones (2G), and with the advent of 3G and TD-SCDMA technologies, it preferred the latter and began to predatory capture the endless market of China and its environs. The world market received crumbs of their products in the form of chips for smartphones. By 2008, more than 50% of the world's largest telecom operator China Mobile's customers were using Spreadtrum phones.
This is how you should treat Spreadtrum – this is a huge Chinese telecommunications monster (in a good way), the size of which we cannot estimate by the tips of the tentacles that have penetrated our domestic market in the form of entry-level mobile chipsets. The company's gloss is also added by the long-term cooperation with Intel, which resulted in the emergence of Spreadtrum chipsets based on cores with the Intel Airmont (SC9861G-IA) architecture. In the meantime, the conventional giant octopus Spreadtrum has not got out of the Asian basin, let's see what it offers on the Russian market.
Spreadtrum chipsets in the Russian market
At the same time, there are phones, smartphones and tablets with Spreadtrum SC5735, SC6531, SC7715, SC7730SE, SC7730g, SC7731, SC7731g, SC8830, SC9830, SC9830A, SC9832 and SC9850 chips on the domestic market.
Spreadtrum SC5735 (2014)
The 4-core chipset of the era Android 4.4 includes the Cortex A-7 cores (1.2 GHz) and the Mali 400 graphics. In theory, it was a direct competitor MediaTek of the MT6582 and Snapdragon 200, but the process technology 40 nm quickly turned theory into harsh practice. Among other things, the maximum resolution of the supported cameras speaks of low performance – two pieces of 2 and 5 MP.
Spreadtrum SC6531 (2014)
The chip is a purely telephone one, made according to the old 40 nm technology. It is found in the lowest price segment and is a direct competitor of chips MediaTek for the 'button'. Oddly enough, the menu of all such phones is made as a blueprint and nothing special pleases the user, 3G does not support, only GSM and GPRS are connected.
Spreadtrum SC7715 (2014)
The company's chairman and CEO, Leo Li, said so at the time – “The chipset will be used in smartphones for people who buy a smartphone for the first time.” Obviously, having bought a smartphone based on SC7715 once, the buyer will never do it again. One Cortex A-7 core (1.2 GHz) and the Mali 400 video accelerator will make even the most patient user smash the smartphone against the wall. Another reason for the 'slowness' was the old 40 nm process technology, which led to a rapid overheating of the chipset and the subsequent reset of operating frequencies.
Spreadtrum SC7730SE, SC7730a / s / g, SC7731, SC7731g (2015)
At the heart of the chipsets is a 4-core Cortex A-7 scheme and Mali 400 graphics. Progress lies in the transition from 40 nm to 28, as well as the transfer of the GPS controller to the chip. The letters in the index mean:
- A – frequency 1.2 GHz
- G – 1.3 GHz frequency, graphics has two clusters (Mali 400 MP2). It is possible that 'G' is 'gaming'.
- S – frequency 1.3 GHz
- SE – adapted for installation in budget Samsung devices
Recall that in 2015 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 was announced, the average budget began to massively switch to 8-core systems, and in the budget sector, SC77xx chipsets fought MediaTek MT6580 and Snapdragon 210. From time to time to the present day, the Samsung Galaxy Tab E 9.6 SM-T561N tablet remained on store shelves without incident.
They still want to get about 10,000 rubles for it, and the Spreadtrum SC7730SE inside the tablet is not to blame for anything. Benchmarks show the performance of the 'Samsung-adapted' Spreadtrum SE as slightly below average in the ultra-budget segment:
Spreadtrum SC8830 (2015)
This chipset does not fundamentally differ from the earlier ones: x4 Cortex A-7, Mali 400 MP2, 28 nm. A conditional difference, and for the worse, can be called the existence in nature of the Samsung Galaxy J1 2015 smartphone. The old-timers of Mobile-Review will probably remember how an article-review on it mysteriously disappeared from the site and reappeared.
The unusually slow operation of the Samsung Galaxy J1 was provided by the Spreadtrum SC8830 chipset cut down to two cores. To this day, this smartphone has not survived on sale, and thank God, because someone could have bought it by mistake.
Spreadtrum SC9830 / 9830A (2015)
It differs from the early ones only by moving to the LTE modem crystal and raising the clock frequencies to 1.5 GHz (in theory, up to 1.7 GHz). There are no other differences – х4 А-7, Mali 400 MP2, 28 nm.
Spreadtrum SC9832 (2016)
Nothing different from SC9830 (or could not find differences). Over the past two years, at least 80 items among smartphones and at least 60 items among tablets based on this chipset have been presented in Russian retail.
Spreadtrum SC9850 (2017)
The difference from the earlier SC9830 / 9832 chipsets is the hardware support for cameras with resolutions up to 13 MP (versus 8 MP) and screens with a fashionable 'elongated' resolution of 720×1440 pixels (versus 1280×800 / 720). And the connecting link of the whole world and China is a modem with support for TDD-LTE / FDD-LTE / TD-SCDMA / WCDMA / GSM. New items on this chipset continue to come out, the latest ones are Digma LINX TRIX 4G, teXet TM-5073 and Archos Core 55S.
Comparison of old Spreadtrum chipsets with competitors
All tests were carried out in 32-bit mode (except SDM820), competitors were selected based on this.
As you can see from the diagrams, there is nothing to compare the chipsets with. Literally. All competitors have long since switched to Cortex A-53 + cores, 64-bit architecture and thinner technical processes.
Gaming performance is daunting too.
Quite a long, but unbearably boring history of the development of chipsets under the Spreadtrum brand was not subject to sharp jumps. On the old 4-core ARM Cortex A-7 bundle, the manufacturer slowly 'hung' the second Mali 400 graphics cluster, navigation and LTE modem, hardware support for higher resolution cameras and screens with an aspect ratio of 18: 9. What keeps the company afloat? Indeed, under normal market conditions, the bankruptcy of Spreadtrum would have occurred at the latest in 2016. The answer is very simple – one of the leading positions in the Chinese market, government support and TD-SCDMA communication technology. Would you buy a Spreadtrum-based smartphone for 5000-7000 rubles? If you have an elongated screen, a monobrow and headphones as a gift?
In June 2018, the company realized that it was impossible to live like this any longer, and took an obvious step – rebranding. The Spreadtrum brand is a thing of the past, and UNISOC is taking its place. On the website of the 'new' company UNISOC, you can see the following innovations:
- All chipsets are divided into three categories – series. UNISOC S100 – chips for regular dialers, S300 – for mid-range and budget smartphones, S500 – high-performance chipsets.
- The old chipsets have not gone anywhere and are mentioned on the site.
- It is impossible to determine which series the chipset belongs to by its name.
The new initial series for simple push-button phones introduces two chipsets, the SC9820A and the SC9820E. Both are built according to the scheme 'two cores + Mali graphics + support for custom Android, pretending to be a regular phone menu'.
The SC9820A is a solution for the domestic Chinese market, with two Cortex A-7 (28nm) cores, Mali 400 and TD-SCDMA / HSDPA / HSUPA modem. It is impossible to test the performance of such a solution, but a simple phone menu should work quickly.
The SC9820E is an international button product that is already in full swing in the Nokia 3310 4G phone. And it looks like this is the company's first Cortex A-53-based chipset, albeit in a 2-core design.
In the new series for the middle class, only one chipset is presented – this is the SC9853I, which has already been tested in the Leagoo T5C smartphone.
This is the first 14nm chipset from the company. The performance of 8 cores Intel Airmont (1.8 GHz) and the Mali T820 MP2 graphics accelerator turned out to be at or slightly higher than that of MediaTek MT6750T, which is not so bad. And almost allows it to compete with the mid-range Qualcomm.
Cooperation with Intel has borne fruit, and the former Spreadtrium, and now UNISOC, lags behind its competitors not by three years, but only by two. The picture is complemented by a universal modem that supports Chinese and world communication standards at the same time.
The older series is not yet represented by any chipset. Moreover, any mention of her from the site disappeared (but we remember).
Quite a lot of information can be gleaned during the rebranding of the company. There are old and new products on the market, both sites work, old and new. You can see how cooperation with Intel brings its positive aspects, and the gap with the market leaders is gradually narrowing. There is no doubt that in the future we will definitely see 'artificial intelligence' in UNISOC chipsets, but for now only Intel. You can also see the company's desire to produce chipsets that simultaneously operate in China and in the international cellular space, which is a kind of Spreadtrum's calling card. I ask the respected community to express their thoughts and tell about their personal impressions of smartphones based on Spreadtrum chipsets.