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Nomad unveils its latest 2,800mAh battery for iPhone

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Nomad today announced the launch of an updated Battery Cable, which comes equipped with a slim 2,800 mAh battery to add a bit of extra juice to Apple’s iPhones and iPads.

The Battery Cable looks like a standard braided Nomad Lightning cable for the iPhone, but with the addition of a battery pack at one end that can be used for extra charging power when necessary.

Nomad’s 1.5M Battery Cable includes an integrated Nomad cable tie and support for passthrough charging, so you can charge up the battery while you charge your iPhone. Having the battery pack integrated into the cable is convenient because it ensures the battery is always full when you need it.

Compared to the original version of the Battery Cable, the new model has a higher capacity and a sturdier aluminum build.

Nomad’s Battery Cable can be purchased from the Nomad website for $49.95 starting today.

Brooklyn-based writer, editor and creator with a love of all things streetwear and/or delicious. Always on the hunt for the next best coffee shop. Obsessed with new sunglasses.

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Wi-Fi company Plume announces new mesh router technology

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Wi-Fi router startup Plume today announced an upgraded version of its mesh networking devices and a new subscription model for its customers. Plume first began selling its “Plume Pod” routers in late 2016, and today revealed a new tri-band router called the “SuperPod” (via The Verge).

Plume’s SuperPod works like any other mesh system, requiring users to connect the first Pod to their modem with an included ethernet cable. The rest serve as wall plugs that users permanently place in an outlet to enhance the Wi-Fi signal throughout their home. In comparison to the original dual band, four-channel model, SuperPod has a tri-band Wi-Fi radio with eight channels and two ethernet ports.

When connected and running, the SuperPod system learns the user’s home usage patterns “in a matter of days.” This means that the SuperPods will learn when you use Wi-Fi the most (getting news from a smart speaker in the morning or watching 4K films at night) and implement “Adaptive Wi-Fi” to actively optimize the network for more consistent speed and performance.

For users to take advantage of these features, they’ll have to subscribe to Plume. The company previously sold the Plume Pod without a subscription, but today is changing that by requiring customers to subscribe to its Adaptive Wi-Fi service before they can purchase a SuperPod, The Verge notes.

The service costs $60 per year and if users opt out of the subscription in a year’s time “the routers may not fully work,” although Plume CEO Fahri Diner said the company wouldn’t outright “brick” the devices if users decide not to pay down the line.

Diner says Plume wants to provide so many additional services as part of its subscription that customers will happily remain subscribed. “Our intent, our hope, is to make the decision a no-brainer,” Diner said in a phone call. “If the customer doesn’t want to renew, it won’t be because of the price. They will be unhappy for us for one reason or another.”

Plume is offering price discounts for it subscribers, however, selling a three-pack of its routers for $39, down from $179. Three packs come with two dual-band routers (the older models) and one tri-band router (the new model). In terms of adding supplemental Pods onto the system, the company will still sell its Plume Pod for $39 and the individual price for the new SuperPod is $99.

Potential customers can also choose to pay a flat $200 fee for a lifetime membership to the service, while existing Plume owners will be grandfathered in to the new features for free. Other features include parental controls, speed tests, service management, and “Plume HomePass.” This service creates unique Wi-Fi passwords personalized to guests when they visit. The iOS app can also detail Wi-Fi connections, freeze device connections to prevent kids from accessing the internet, data consumption charts, and more.

Wi-Fi mesh systems have become a popular solution for in-home Wi-Fi over the years, with options from companies like Linksys, Orbi, Eero, Google, and others. The technology is looking to expand as well, with the Wi-Fi Alliance in May announcing a new certification program called “EasyMesh,” which aims to allow users to build mesh networks in their homes across different brands.

For Plume, orders on the SuperPod will open June 15 and the device will begin shipping June 21.

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Microsoft officially announces its Xbox adaptive controller

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Microsoft’s previously announced Adaptive Controller for the Xbox is now available for pre-order for $100 USD and is expected to ship in September.

After an initial leak of the device, Microsoft has announced an Xbox controller designed for individuals with disabilities. The Adaptive Controler features two large buttons that can be programmed, as well as 19 jacks that allows connectivity with a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches compatible with Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.

Its highlighted customization and connectivity aspects allow gamers to built a setup for all their needs, and although the peripheral won’t be for every game, with its system-level button remapping, its usage has endless possibilities to build upon for the gaming accessibility field.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 USD and is slated to drop later this year.

In related news, a Black Panther-themed Xbox One X is coming.

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Apple is researching 3D chip packaging

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Apple’s persistent quest for better performance, longer battery life, and slimmer form factors appears to be driving its research into advanced chip packaging technologies. So-called “2.5D” and “3D” packaging methods stand to offer significant gains in all of these areas by increasing memory bandwidth, reducing power consumption, and freeing up space for higher-capacity batteries.

Apple has been an aggressive adopter of new device packaging methods, mostly thanks to integrated fan-out (InFO) innovations provided by foundry partner TSMC. TSMC’s success has spurred it into further developing and diversifying its packaging offerings, and TSMC has emerged as an industry leader in packaging techniques.

While versions of TSMC’s InFO packaging have brought performance improvements to Apple devices, such as better thermal management and improved package height, it has largely not been a direct enabler of improved electrical performance. This is set to change with future packaging techniques and is already seen in some products that utilize interposers for higher density interconnects to on-package memory, such as High Bandwidth Memory (HBM).

The primary memory candidate for inclusion in such a package would be conforming to the Wide I/O set of standards described by JEDEC, and mentioned by name in several of the patents. This memory improves on LPDDR4 by increasing the number of channels and reducing the transfer speed per channel, thus increasing the overall bandwidth but lowering the energy required per bit.

Interposers do, however, pose several issues for mobile devices. Significantly, they introduce another vertical element to the package, increasing total height. Interposers must also be fabricated on silicon wafers just like active ICs, with their dimensions driven by the footprint of all devices that need to be included in the package. These solutions are typically termed as “2.5D” due to some components being placed laterally with respect to one another rather a true stacking of chips.

Rather than adopt interposers for its products as a next step in advanced packaging, the direction of Apple’s focus, according to several patent applications [1][2][3][4], appears to be on true “3D” techniques, with logic die such as memory being placed directly on top of an active SoC. Additionally, a patent application from TSMC seems to suggest a level of coordination between Apple and TSMC in these efforts.

3D stacking process flow

The process has similarities to the existing InFO techniques in that they both involve a redistribution layer (RDL) where contacts on a logic die are routed inside a molding compound with the help of vias directly in the molding compound. Where the 3D process diverts from this is that there is now RDL content on both sides of the die, necessitating the use of through-silicon vias (TSV) directly in the logic die so that interconnections can be made with the top of the die. A key feature of these RDL layers is that interconnect pitches finer than available substrate or interposer types is possible.

Subsequent dies could then be attached to the molding compound, mating with the vias and RDL placed in the previous step. This step could be done multiple times, provided each stacked component has TSVs for the next level of integration, and this is already seen in HBM, which allows for the stacking of up to eight DRAM dies.

Side view of memory die (110) attached to SoC (150) in 3D package

Still, this approach has many technical challenges that have prevented its commercialization. TSVs are expensive to implement and are a serious yield detractor to ICs. Electrical isolation from nearby components’ radiated energy can also be a concern, particularly when integrating RF and analog components in a package with other components that would have been separated by space and EMI shielding before. Apple describes techniques to incorporate shielding directly in the package to mitigate this.

Package with integrated EMI shield

This approach also presents thermal challenges since active dies become so closely coupled in mediums that have poor thermal conductivity and shared thermal paths. These concerns extend not only to normal device usage, but also the package integration and any solder reflow steps. Thermal stresses can induce warpage of the packaging components due to differing coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE) amongst the materials utilized in the package. This warpage can lead to broken or separated contacts, resulting in device failure.

The use of a carrier substrate in the process flow mitigates some of the thermal concerns. The direct integration of heatsinks into device packaging is also addressed at various levels of the package assembly, such that higher dissipating die, such as a SoC featuring CPU and GPU cores, could be placed on the bottom of the stack or at a higher level of integration, providing stackup flexibility not seen in previous PoP arrangements.

Package with integrated heatsink component (310)

Embodiments may be applied in applications such as, and not limited to, low power and/or high I/O width memory architecture. Embodiments can enable a short double data rate (DDR) channel to neighboring function units (e.g. SOC, chipsets, etc.) by using RDL and direct chip attach. Embodiments may be particularly applicable for mobile applications that require low power DDR at target performance including high speed and I/O width.

The benefits of the methods described are many. The use of higher bandwidth memory will yield performance improvements. The flexibility of component placement shortens the distance between connected active and passive devices, either lowering the energy required to communicate between them, or reducing parasitic effects that can cause unwanted power loss or dynamic performance degradation. The most notable tasks that stand to benefit are gaming and image processing tasks, which often require large amounts of bandwidth over short time intervals.

Apple Watch Implications

These enhancements would be applicable to all of Apple’s mobile devices, but multiple patent applications specifically mention methods of multiple components married together in a System in Package (SiP), as seen in the current Apple Watch. The methods described below are an enhancement on the existing SiP solutions found in Apple Watch in that they introduce true 3D stacking elements enabled by both TSV and Through Oxide Vias (TOV).

Array of TOVs for connecting stacked die to package pins

In one aspect, embodiments describe system on chip (SoC) die portioning and/or die splitting within an SiP structure (e.g. 3D memory package) in which IP cores such as CPU, GPU, IO, DRAM, SRAM, cache, ESD, power management, and integrated passives may be freely segregated throughout the package, while also mitigating total z-height of the package.

Additionally, the patent describes TSV and TOV pitch in explicit detail, suggesting that keeping package heights down allows them to create very small width vias, with the TOV forming interconnect rows at sizes smaller than even the TSVs. The effect of TSVs stressing active parts of the die, including hurting transistor performance, is also discussed, and the reduced pitches help to mitigate this.

Active die keepout zones around TSVs

Inclusion of RF transceivers and active devices on substrate types not currently used in Apple mobile devices are covered, indicating all types of active and passive components found in Apple Watch products could be housed in the SiP proposed.

Bottom level view of an SiP with stacked heterogenous die interconnected with TSV and TOV

Timeline

Packages featuring 2.5D and 3D connected components have been in consumer devices for several years, but most of the methods described above have yet to debut in mobile devices. The steps described are set to increase manufacturing complexity, and cost and throughput will likely suffer as a result.

Due to cost and yield concerns, a primary candidate for first inclusion of these methods would be a high-margin, low-quantity device. While the iPhone is the highest margin of Apple’s mobile products, it is also the largest volume category, with a huge initial demand for each generation. The iPad Pro is a good candidate because of its low volume nature and its classification as a high-performance device. The inclusion of 120Hz refresh rate is something that will benefit from increased memory bandwidth, specifically.

The focus of many of these patents seems to be specifically on SiP methods seen in Apple Watch internals. The Apple Watch is a lower-volume device, and it stands to benefit because its internals are extremely sensitive to package size given the importance of its form factor and battery size. It seems reasonable to expect some of the methods described to be incorporated as soon as the next revision of the Apple Watch, and more progressively in future revisions

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