Phil Casini, Sonics Inc.(09/11/2006 9:00 AM EDT), EE Times
The widespread use of wireless communications and the rise in digital content consumption in handsets are creating new opportunities and correspondingly new system design challenges for OEMs. In these systems, one key design challenge revolves around how designers can continue to integrate more system functions and yet maintain affordability and acceptable ergonomics for mass markets.
The new OEM design challenges, in turn, create a new set of dynamics for the semiconductor industry. Because of the nature of the system functions--largely centered on the processing of video, voice and data--the processing elements required to support each of the system functions are unique. As a result, het- erogeneous multiprocessing on a chip has become the new architecture standard for performance system-on-chip design, replacing single embedded processor implementations of previous-generation SoCs. On the surface, this transition might seem straightforward. Instead of hosting one embedded processor, now multiple types of processing elements are on the chip, usually adding a digital signal processor and a graphics or multimedia engine to more efficiently support operations the embedded processor was not originally designed to handle.
But heterogeneous multiprocessing ushers in a new phenomenon that will significantly change the way OEMs use SoCs. What is this new phenomenon? System-level differentiation shifting from hardware to software. Because of the complex nature of processing video, voice and data, SoC developers are increasingly relying on outsourced processing elements and other intellectual property to meet their time-to-market and price-point demands. Therefore, as system functions consolidate onto a single device, powered by processing elements readily available to anyone, OEMs will find it increasingly difficult to differentiate in hardware. Algorithmic and system-level software differentiation gives the OEM more opportunity to win.
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