The type of System on a Chip (SoC) can greatly affect beacon battery life. At one time it was only Dialog that had low power SoCs. TI, NXP and Nordic followed and now Toshiba has joined them with their new TC35678FSG, TC35678FXG and TC35679FSG (PDF).
You can find the processor chip in the specification section of our beacon descriptions. Most people don’t know what this means or implies. This article will hopefully help you make a more informed choice and provide some insights into what’s coming in the near future.
There are currently three main chip families from Texas Instruments (CC254x), Dialog (DA14580) and Nordic (nrf51822). These chip manufacturers publish standard electronic circuit and printed circuit board layouts that beacon OEMs use for their beacons. Hence, most beacons, within a chip family, have very similar designs. However, small differences in implementation of board layout in areas such as the power supply, grounding, terminations, connectors and the antenna can cause electrical differences that can cause loss of power or noise that can affect operation. Hence the quality of the beacon radio signal is affected more by the quality of the implementation than the choice of chip. This is also evident in real world tests. We have performed RSSI strength and stability tests on the beacons we sell and haven’t yet found any correlation between signal quality and chip family.
The CPU type does significantly affect battery use. For the same transmit power and advertising interval configuration, the Dialog DA14580 provides 2x to 3x battery life of Nordic nrf51822 based (e.g. Estimote) beacons and up to x6 the battery life of TI CC254x based-beacons.
However, chip families are evolving ecosystems and there are also new contenders. In our talks with manufacturers, we know that the newer TI CC2640 is being used in new beacon designs and will provide a x3.5 battery life, at a compromise of a slightly reduced signal range, compared to the CC254x. NXP (used be part of Philips Semiconductors) also have the QN9020 that provides x3.5 battery power compared to the TI CC254x. We’ll be stocking beacons with these new processors in the near future.