Major players in the DSP market next week will unveil details of next-generation devices, dramatically escalating the battle for performance leadership while solidifying the technology's position as the driving force behind the electronics industry.
Analog Devices Inc. and the StarCore alliance, the joint venture between Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector and Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Microelectronics and Communications Technologies Group, Monday will begin sampling their latest high-performance DSPs, both of which are aimed at stalling the momentum gained by Texas Instruments Inc.'s TMS320C6x DSP family.
Both StarCore and Analog Devices, as well as TI, have disclosed roadmaps that are expected to push DSP performance well above 1,000 million multiply and accumulate (MMAC) operations per sec- ond in 2000. TI expects to pro- duce devices achieving speeds of 3 trillion instructions per second by 2010.
"It has become clear that wi thin the last year or two, DSP has become the driver for the semiconductor industry for the next decade," said Will Strauss of Forward Concepts Co., Tempe, Ariz. "DSP is used in everything that is multimedia. DSP is the on-ramp to the Internet. There's no way you can get to the Internet without a DSP chip."
The new introductions are expected to provide the StarCore camp and Analog Devices with their best opportunity to eat away at TI's market dominance in DSP, Strauss said. In the past, he added, TI has been able to outspend other companies in the market, but the StarCore alliance, in addition to the DSP-development alliance between Analog Devices and Intel Corp., has provided new life for competitors.
TI held a commanding 48% share of the $3.5 billion general-purpose programmable-DSP market in 1998, nearly matched by the 41% share held jointly by the StarCore partners. Analog Devices ranked fourth, with a 9% share, according to Forward Concepts.
The new offerings from Analog Devices and StarCore pose a formidable challenge to TI, however. With four multiply-and-accumulate engines, the StarCore SC140 provides 1,200-MMAC performance at 300 MHz. Analog Devices' TigerSharc is designed to deliver 2,000-MMAC performance at the same clock speed.
TI, meanwhile, is sampling the TMS320C6203, which provides 600-MMAC performance at 300 MHz, although the company has a roadmap in place to quickly move the 'C6x platform to 3,000 MMAC, said Rick Rienhart, 'C6000 product line manager at TI in Houston.
Still, TI's time-to-market advantage overshadows the performance gains of StarCore and Analog Devices, Strauss noted. "StarCore and TigerSharc are faster than anything currently shipping," he said. "The current difference between the competitors is that only TI is in volume production [with its 'C6x family]. That means TI has anywhere from a 12- to 18-month head start in actually getting into sockets."
Motorola and Lucent are sampling the StarCore SC140 core to a handful of key customers. Both companies are expected to deliver volume quantities of SC140-based devices during the second half of 2000.
Motorola has already announced its first product based on the SC140 core. The MSC8108 will combine the SC140 with a communications processor module, a programmable network-protocol engine, a 32-bit PowerPC bus interface, 512 Kbytes of SRAM, a filter co-processor, a DMA engine, and a programmable memory controller. The device is expected to sample in second-quarter 2000.
The SC140 is being delivered as a soft core, which will enable it to be easily ported for foundry production by Lucent and Motorola customers, although no foundry licenses have been announced yet, said Thomas Brooks, director of marketing and business development for StarCore in Atlanta.
The TigerSharc from Analog Devices has begun limited sampling, with general sampling scheduled for the first quarter of 2000. The device has two computational units that can support floating point and 8-, 16-, and 32-bit instructions on the same chip.
The TigerSharc is the first DSP that will enable customers to simultaneously run code at virtually any bit length. All other DSP offerings are limited to a specific bit length, usually either 16-bit, 32-bit, or floating point. "We allow the programmer to make this decision on a cycle-by-cycle basis, and you can even have one compute block operating at 16-bit while the other is operating at 32-bit," said Bob Conrad, vice president of DSP products at Analog Devices in Norwood, Mass.
However, Gene Frantz, senior fellow and new-business development manager for DSPs at TI, said he has seldom seen an end-equipment system that needed those capabilities at the same time. "In many cases you throw things out into the market and see which one people bite and take on," he said. "I really don't know if TigerSharc will be a raving success or a raving failure. In my experience, things that have been greatly successful [are] focused on a specific market or specific customers, and not aimed at a little bit of every thing."
Frantz unveiled a TI DSP roadmap that promises to deliver system-level integration of 20 to 30 DSPs on a single chip by 2010, generating between 1 trillion and 3 trillion instructions per second. TI plans to begin production in 2000 using a 0.1-micron process technology and migrate to as low as 0.02 micron by 2010.