QBit's First SOC Featured in The MFP Report

The June 2021 issue of The MFP Report included an article on QBit. The article is reproduced here with permission.

The MFP Report: QBit's First SOC is Powering MFPs and Printers from Fujifilm and NEC

After five years, the first hardcopy devices to utilize the inaugural system-on-a-chip (SOC) processor developed by Boston area QBit Semiconductor have finally shipped. Those new products are the ApeosPrint C320dw printer and Apeos C320z 4-in-1 device — including various geographic model variants — that Fujifilm Business Innovation announced in April (The MFP Report, Apr 21). Also using the new chip are the OEM’d Color MultiWriter 4C150 printer and 4F150 MFP that NEC launched this month in Japan (story on p. 18).

These are all compact 30 ppm A4 (31 ppm letter) desktop color devices that use a cleansheet LED engine developed by Fuji Xerox. In some ways, the relationship between QBit and Fujifilm is not surprising. The predecessors to the companies — Qualcomm and Fuji Xerox — had worked together on previous generations of their respective products.

QBit was formed by a long-time group of silicon engineers with expertise in printing who left Qualcomm in 2016. The company has raised a rather modest $12.5 million from New Kinpo Group in Taiwan. QBit had originally expected additional investments from “a major Japan semiconductor company and a major Japan printer company,” but those deals never materialized. However, the Japanese printer company did end up providing funds for engineering services.

QBit has close to 60 employees spread across Taipei, Boston and Tokyo. Its main thrust has been developing the QB63xx family of ARM-based SOCs for MFPs, printers, scanners, and 3D printers. The new chips over time will replace the aging Quatro line of SOCs that are still sold by both Qualcomm and QBit. The last new Quatro SOC was launched by CSR in 2015. That was the year Qualcomm bought CSR. Shortly thereafter, it stopped funding new Quatro chips.

QBit had taped out a prototype of the QB63xx silicon in mid-2018; a production version of the chip followed in mid2019; and the chips entered mass production in the spring of 2020. It has taken another year for the first chips to appear in new hardcopy products. QBit had indicated last year that it expected the first products to utilize its new chips would be an A4 color printer and an A4 color MFP — which are the Fujifilm models — and a yet-to-be seen A3 monochrome MFP.

The QB63xx product line actually encompasses eight different ARM-based chips. Those chips differ in terms of their clock speed (i.e., from 500 MHz to 1.125 GHz) and the number of cores (i.e., single or dual core). Based on the controller specs Fujifilm has provided, it appears the ApeosPrint C320dw printer and Apeos C320z 4-in-1 device are using the QB6310 chip, which is a 667 MHz single-core design.

All of the QB63xx chips share the same architecture as the current Quatro 53xx and 55xx series SOCs that Qualcomm and QBit are still selling. That is important because it makes it relatively simply for vendors who have used the Quatro chips to migrate to the new QBit chips. Indeed, this was the case with Fujifilm, which used a Quatro 55xx series chip to power its previous generation of A4 color models.

The new QBit chips use 28nm silicon process for reduced power and increased performance, and they have an ultra low power 65 mW sleep mode to meet the requirements of Energy Star and similar programs. The new chips also have programmable printer and scanner interfaces “to directly control virtually any printer (laser, LED, inkjet, thermal) or scanner (CIS, multisegment CIS, CCD).”

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