SoCs for smartwatches and other mainstream wearables

According to a team of Gartner analysts, affordable Android-based smartwatches will retail at $30 by 2015 as interest builds up inside consumer mass markets in China and internationally. This puts smartwatches at the forefront of wearable adoption, since it is a category of devices that consumers are already familiar with and feel comfortable using.

Wearable - smartwatchesA mini-computer on your wrist

There are already several smartwatches that use MIPS CPUs; you can read my review of the Tomoon T-Fire here and find a list of popular smartwatches in China here. Additionally, Imagination is one of the official launch partners of Android Wear, the operating system designed by Google for output wearables like smartwatches.

Designing processors for smartwatches

While input wearables require MCU-class connected processors and sensor hubs, output devices tend to include application processors that integrate multimedia subsystems and more powerful CPUs.

03-Mainstream wearable-smartwatchAn example of a chipset for smartwatches

To that end, our MIPS I-class multi-core CPUs provide the performance needed by a chipset to run a full-blown operating system at the lowest power consumption possible. Here are some of the unique features of our MIPS I-class CPUs:

  • Better performance: unique features such as improved co-processor support and advanced multi-threading improve overall system performance
  • Reduced area: the MIPS architecture is highly compact, leading to lower costs
  • Advanced power saving technologies: developers can use power saving instructions to achieve better control over all parts of the chip; all MIPS CPUs implement fine-grain clock gating to reduce dynamic power and voltage/frequency scaling to allow on-the-fly clock frequency changes

The multimedia subsystem includes a GPU for a fast and fluid user interface; optional components like video and vision processors can be added if the device includes a camera.

The newly-announced PowerVR GX5300 GPU is a perfect fit for wearables such as smartwatches, and features a number of advantages over competing solutions, especially when it comes to area size and power consumption:

  • PowerVR GX5300 occupies only 0.55mm2 (post layout, 28nm), making it the smallest OpenGL ES 2.0 GPU capable of running Android, Android Wear and other Linux-based operating systems. This makes it up to 2x smaller than competing single-core designs manufactured in a similar process node.
  • Unified shaders: Our TBDR graphics architecture offers unified shaders where vertex, pixel and GPU compute resources are scaled simultaneously. This approach makes PowerVR GPUs adapt to any workload requirements, whereas competing solutions suffer from bottlenecks that impact processing efficiency.
  • Low power and high precision graphics: All PowerVR GPUs offer a mix of low power (FP16) and high precision (FP32) rendering and implement the full OpenGL ES 2.0 specification whereas some competing solutions offer no support for FP32 which results in visual artefacts and lack of compatibility.
  • Reduced memory footprint: PowerVR GX5300 supports PVRTC, a texture compression format widely adopted in the mobile industry which reduces memory bandwidth and decreases power consumption. Competing solutions offer ETC-only implementations that suffer from lack of compatibility, higher bandwidth usage that lead to power costs. PVRTC helps silicon vendors reduce memory costs, a vital aspect in wearables and IoT, where smaller is cheaper and lower power.

Connectivity-wise, our Ensigma Whisper RPUs help reduce time to market and are uniquely provided as end-to-end offerings (including RF if needed) so that customers can build better solutions faster.

Wearable - smartwatches-2 Smartwatches can use Bluetooth Smart, low-power Wi-Fi or other connectivity standards to transmit data to other devices

Case study #1: Dhanush Optima from Ineda

Dhanush Optima is a super-charged version of the company’s WPU (Wearable Processing Unit) architecture. Optima offers an external memory option via a low power LPDDR2 interface; this chipset is ideal for mainstream smartwatches that deliver increased functionality and require additional memory.

Case study #2: Ingenic Newton

Ingenic Newton is a highly integrated solution that includes a low power, high performance 1GHz MIPS-based Ingenic JZ4775 CPU, several multimedia engines and 4-in-1 combo connectivity. This system has been used in several popular smartwatches shipping in Asia.

geak-3The new GEAK Watch 2 wearable uses a MIPS-based Ingenic chip

By using a smart combination of dual-screens (E Ink and LCD) and integrating a MIPS-based, power-efficient processor from Ingenic, the new GEAK Watch 2 delivers more than 15 days of battery life and supports a range of wellness tracking monitors and sensors.

You can find out more about the GEAK Watch 2 by reading this in-depth article from


This article is part of an on-going series that focuses on what Imagination is doing to ensure our partners are able to create the next wave of chipsets for every category of wearable devices.

Here are a few related posts that describe how companies can combine our hardware and software IP to create truly differentiated wearable devices:

If you want to be in the know on everything related to wearables and Imagination, subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationTech, @PowerVRInsider, @MIPSGuru), Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

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