TI flexes ARM in embedded processors

TechOnline India - October 20, 2010

Texas Instruments is flexing ARM into a broad range of high-end markets for wired systems with two families of chips that use 1.5 GHz Cortex A8 cores. TI's new Sitara and Integra lines also integrate a handful of high performance peripherals and a 1.5 GHz TI DSP used in the Integra chips.

Texas Instruments is flexing ARM into a broad range of high-end markets for wired systems with two families of chips that use 1.5 GHz Cortex A8 cores. TI's new Sitara and Integra lines also integrate a handful of high performance peripherals and a 1.5 GHz TI DSP used in the Integra chips.

The new processors join an increasingly competitive set of high-end embedded products including SoCs from Freescale, LSI Logic and Intel. Intel announced in September two new high-end embedded SoCs using its Atom cores.

Most other embedded processors using ARM Cortex A8 cores are running at a gigahertz, said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.). TI, Nvidia and Qualcomm have announced dual-core Cortex A9 chips at 1.5 GHz, but they are aimed at smartphones, tablets and other wireless systems.

"We don’t see any broadly available integrated DSP and ARM products at this level," said Jake Alamat, a marketing director at TI. "There are no fixed and floating point DSPs that run this fast anywhere," he said.

TI is applying its 40nm high performance process to existing processor cores in its OMAP line to create the products. Both Sitara and Integra lines use the ARM cores and a common set of peripherals.

The peripherals include 5 GHz PCI Express Gen 2, 3 Gbit/s serial ATA, dual Gbit Ethernet controllers and dual DDR2 or DDR3 interfaces running at up to 1.6 GHz. Some of the chips also come with an Imagination Technologies 333 MHz SGX530 graphics accelerator block that supports 1920 x 1280 resolution displays.

The Sitara chips will consume up to 5W. The Integra chips, which include a TMS320C674x floating- and fixed-point DSP core, will consume up to 7W. Prices range from about $43 to $49 in ten-thousand unit volumes.

TI says the chips will be a lower-cost alternative to systems that use separate processors, DSPs and FPGAs. The company is supplying a developer's kit for the chips with support for Linux, Microsoft Windows Embedded Compact 7 and Google Android.

The Sitara chips are aimed at uses in products such as single-board computers, routers and gateways, industrial automation systems and point of sale terminals. The Integra chips will use their DSPs to go after apps in machine vision, high-end test and measurement gear, medical imaging and radar/sonar.

"I’m sure it won’t be long before someone surpasses the 1.5 GHz mark" in embedded SoCs, said Jim Turley, Editor-in-Chief, of the Microprocessor Report.

Insofar as TI's chips go after communications systems, they represent the low end for competitors such as Cavium, NetLogic and Freescale. Freescale, in particular, has "a big head start" over TI in wired systems, but TI has the DSP expertise that’s mostly missing from Freescale’s chips," Turley said.

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