He makes devices run faster and longer on less energy

The electronics industry, which has been nurtured by the Economic Development Board, is a vital part of Singapore’s economy. With nearly 80,000 workers, it accounted for about 25 per cent of total manufacturing output last year. Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in it.

In a third-floor office in Fusionopolis, a team of 15 is hard at work creating a crucial part of the next gadget that you do not yet know you will need.

Led by 34-year-old Kevin Koh, the high-performance central processing unit (CPU) team at MediaTek Singapore works with other teams, from Texas to Taiwan, to raise the performance of CPUs that go into everything from phones to wireless routers.

The market keeps demanding higher performance, says Mr Koh.

The answer, he explains, lies in having more than one CPU on the silicon chip in the device, to allow for more efficient multi-tasking.

His team also deploys techniques that make these CPUs more energy-efficient.

This includes preventing "power leakage" while the phone or other device is not in use.

"No one wants a phone that is super fast, but holds its charge for less than a day," he notes.

Digital demands today are higher than when he joined MediaTek as a physical design engineer in 2006 and used a simple phone that allowed calls and messages.

Today, his smartphone runs on a 1.7GHz quad-core processor - with four CPUs - that allows him to take photos, send e-mails and more. He is already eyeing his next phone, one with an octa core, or eight CPUs.

"I usually buy products that our CPUs go into. Using them is the only way you can gauge if they are good enough or if they need to be improved," he says.

It is the perfect excuse for the long-time gadget freak who, when he was 14, built his own personal computer to play games, to get the latest devices.

By the time he was in university, his bedroom in his Bukit Batok home was full of spare parts as he built over 20 PCs for others.

"Customising means you get a better machine and it costs less," he says, adding that it also sparked a deeper interest in electronics, making engineering a natural choice of study.

After graduating with a degree in electrical and electronics engineering in 2005, he spent a year at Fujitsu Microelectronics Asia Limited before moving to MediaTek.

In 2010, he was promoted to staff engineer and, two years later, became manager of the high-performance CPU team. Last year, he went back to school part-time to get his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering.

Now, even more exciting times are ahead for the avid sportsman who says he jogs and swims so he can keep pace with the demands of work. His 15-man team will double in size in the next three months to keep up with changing technology and more research and development functions in Singapore, where much of MediaTek's integration work is done.

What is as thrilling is knowing that in the 12 months it takes to get products from the design stage to shelves, his team will have at least another six products on the drawing board.

"By the time you see it in the store, we're already working on the next generation of products."

This article was first published on June 9, 2014