SAN JOSE -- While x86-based central processor suppliers tried to hog the spotlight as usual at the Microprocessor Forum here this week, a number chip houses jockeyed for position by disclosing new embedded microprocessors and MPU cores for what is fast becoming the "post-PC era" of rapid growth in IC markets.
At the annual technology forum, Arm, Motorola, picoTurbo, STMicrolectronics, and a host of others separately announced new CISC- and RISC-based chips designed for use in a wide range of emerging non-PC hardware platforms, such as Internet appliances, personal digital assistants (PDAs), wireless systems, and related communications gear.
The embedded processor and end-equipment markets in the post-PC growth era remain extremely fragmented, observed analyst Tom Starnes, who tracks the far-flung embedded MPU world at Dataquest Inc. "A lot of different companies are chasing a lot of different markets," Starnes said. "And everyone seems to think they have the right architecture to address the market."
In fact, there are several schools of thought in the market. One camp believes there is not enough processing power today to handle next-generation, Internet-access devices. That's the view of Dave Salisbury, director of business development for Munich-based Pact GmbH, which this week disclosed a device with 128 embedded 32-bit processors capable of hanlding 51 billion of instructions per second (see Oct. 9 story).
"There is not a processor or [digital signal processor] DSP out there that can support a large amount of data streams needed in next-generation products," Salisbury said.
But others had a different viewpoint. For example, David Lin, chief executive of x86-based microprocessor supplier Rise Technology Co. of San Jose, believes that next-generation Internet-access devices, like set-top boxes, will require slower and low-power processors in order to reduce costs.
M arket observers note that many of the attempts to build the "better mouse trap" in embedded processors could work because, unlike the two-decade-old PC segment, there is no fixed industry standard in new Internet appliances, digital set-top boxes, and next-generation multimedia engines. Consequently, embedded processor cores and products are coming out in droves.
Arm Ltd., for example, announced two new extensions of its popular RISC processor architecture. In the first announcement, the Cambridge, England-based company rolled out the Jazelle architecture, a new extension that enables the company's RISC architecture to directly execute Jave byte-code. Optimized for its Arm core and Thumb line RISC series, the new extension is aimed at wireless products, set-top boxes, Internet appliances, and products, said David Cormie, product manager for the company. The Jazelle architecture will be licensed in the form of an intellectual-property (IP) core.
The U.K. company also announced its single instruction-m ultiple data (SIMD) extensions for parallel processing using its RISC architecture. The SIMD feature will address the need to boost signal processing in applications like wireless systems, PDAs, and other products, said John Rayfield,director of technical marketing for Arm. Like Jazelle, this extension will be offered in the form of an IP core.
Motorola Inc., meanwhile, announced details of its the enhanced Version 4 ColdFire core. Called the V4e, the 32-bit chip operates at either 225- or 333-MHz, for a total performance of 350 million of instructions per second and 500 MIPS, respectively.
The V4e combines the MPU core, virtual memory management unit, a floating-point unit, an enhanced multiply-accumulate unit, and dual-ported processor-local RAM on the same device.
Like all of Motorola's ColdFire processor cores, the V4e is 100% synthesizable and configurable, according to Joe Circello, chief architect of the device. The V4e will be available in 2001, but pricing was not disclosed during the MP U forum this week.
Milpitas, Calif.-based picoTurbo Inc. unveiled a 32-bit RISC processor core for use in consumer and portable applications. Dubbed the pT-120, the core is a 400- and 500-MHz product designed for use in Internet appliances, PDAs, wireless systems, set-top boxes, and other items, said Chip Stearns, chief executive of picoTurbo.
Like the other processor cores from picoTurbo, the pT-120 is capable of executing Arm's instruction-set code, while also supporting fast-context switching, digital signal processing, and compression.
Europe's STMicroelectronics disclosed a new x86-based microprocessor line for embedded use and chips built around Hitachi Ltd.'s RISC chip core. STMicroelectronics intends to build three products around a 64-bit, 133-MHz processor core, which will be compatible with the x86 processors used in personal computer systems. These processors will be aimed at Internet appliances, set-top boxes, Web televisions and other embedded applications (see Oct. 9 story).
STMicroelectronics also announced an expansion of its RISC efforts with Hitachi in the development of next-generation 64-bit processor architectures for multimedia and home Internet systems (see Oct. 11 story), as well as products based on Hitachi's 32-bit SH-4 series.