AUSTIN, Texas National Semiconductor Corp. and Trimedia Technologies Inc. will ally to produce a single-chip solution for Internet appliances, the companies will announce at the Spring Comdex show starting Monday (April 2) in Chicago.
For the near term, National plans to sell its Geode X86-compatible processors with the standalone Trimedia 1300 media processor from Philips Semiconductors, the progenitor of the Trimedia very long-instruction word (VLIW) processor.
Over the next year or two, the goal is to combine the Geode and Trimedia cores on a single die using a 0.13-micron process at National's fabrication facility in Portland, Maine, said Mike Polacek, vice president of National's informational appliances division. While some of today's low-end appliances are content with browsing and don't need a media processor for video or audio downloads, that will change, he said.
"Over the next two or three years, both high-end and low-end appliances from all the system vendors will be able to handle MPEG video and MP3. We want to integrate the cores when we feel that the vast majority of the market needs those kinds of capabilities," Polacek said.
For mass consumer markets, "the sweet spot for adding media-processing capability to an integrated circuit is at about 10 square millimeters of silicon," said Cees Hartgring, Trimedia's chief executive. "With a 0.13-micron process, the Trimedia core will hit that target."
Philips launched the Trimedia in 1994, when MPEG decompression was reaching widespread use. However, the VLIW architecture was difficult to program, leading Philips to invest heavily in C++ program development tools.
Moreover, competitors in the consumer business were reluctant to base their systems on silicon sourced from Philips, itself a major player in consumer hardware. Philips spun out the core into Trimedia Technologies last year, with Philips and Sony as the major investors.
National will invest an undisc losed amount in Trimedia, as well as license the Trimedia cores, said Randy Smith, Trimedia's marketing vice president. The company has about 100 employees after a recent restructuring that folded three development teams into one group.
Trimedia's targets include set-top boxes, videoconferencing systems, Video CD systems sold in China, home portals and Internet appliances. "In the consumer market, it is no longer a question of whether I need a media processor," Hartgring said. The question facing many companies is whether to add cores dedicated to specific functions or to choose a programmable processor that can adapt to new codecs via software changes.
Hartgring said the flexibility of a programmable media processor must come within a certain cost window. The standalone Trimedia, sold by Philips and based on a 0.25-micron process, sells for about $15. As a core, without the packaging and distribution costs, the price drops sharply. The 0.18-micron core Trimedia no w sells requires about 17 mm2 of silicon; it shrinks to about 9 mm2 in a 0.13-micron process, including the data and instruction caches.
"For the 0.13-micron version, we double the speed to about 300 MHz and keep the power consumption at less than half a watt. For the consumer industry, that hits the cost and performance sweet spot for products that must handle video processing," Hartgring said.
National also has an interest in cutting costs on the thin clients, Web pads and other Internet appliances based on its Geode silicon. Polacek said displays, batteries and wireless connectivity ratchet up the price tag, but "thankfully, all of these component costs are coming down."