Lenovo Allegedly Expanding Chip Design Team, Will Design Its Own Mobile Processors

Subject: Processors | April 3, 2013 - 08:35 AM |
Tagged: mobile, Lenovo, electrical engineering, chip design, arm

According to a recent article in the EE Times, Beijing-based PC OEM Lenovo many be entering the mobile chip design business. An anonymous source allegedly familiar with the matter has indicated that Lenovo will be expanding its Integrated Circuits design team to 100 engineers by the second-half of this year. Further, Lenovo will reportedly task the newly-expanded team with designing an ARM processor of its own to join the ranks of Apple, Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Huawei, Samsung, and others.

It is unclear whether Lenovo simply intends to license an existing ARM core and graphics module or if the design team expansion is merely the begining of a growing division that will design a custom chip for its smartphones and Chromebooks to truly differentiate itself and take advantage of vertical integration.

Junko Yoshida of the EE Times article notes that Lenovo was turned away by Samsung when it attempted to use the company's latest Exynos Octa processor. I think that might contribute to the desire to have its own chip design team, but it may also be that the company believes it can compete in a serious way and set its lineup of smartphones apart from the crowd (as Apple has managed to do) as it pursues further Chinese market share and slowly moves its phones into the United States market.

Details are scarce, but it is at least an intriguing protential future for the company. It will be interesting to see if Lenovo is able to make it work in this extremely-competitive and expensive area.

Do you think Lenovo has what it takes to design its own mobile chip? Is it a good idea?

Source: EE Times

16nm FinFET ARM processors from TSMC soon

Subject: General Tech | April 2, 2013 - 05:57 PM |
Tagged: arm, FinFET, 16nm, TSMC, Cortex-A57

While what DigiTimes is reporting on is only the first tape out, it is still very interesting to see TSMC hitting 16nm process testing and doing it with the 3D transistor technology we have come to know as FinFET.  It was a 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 chip that was created using this process, unfortunately we did not get much information about what comprised the chip apart from the slide you can see below.

Cortex_A57_600.jpg

As it can be inferred by the mention that it can run alongside big.LITTLE chips it will not be of the same architecture, nor will it be confined to cellphones.  This does help reinforce TSMC's position in the market for keeping up with the latest fabrication trends and another solid ARM contract will also keep the beancounters occupied.  You can't expect to see these chips immediately but this is a solid step towards an new process being mastered by TSMC.

18198_Cortex-A50-big.LITTLE-sum.jpg

"The achievement is the first milestone in the collaboration between ARM and TSMC to jointly optimize the 64-bit ARMv8 processor series on TSMC FinFET process technologies, the companies said. The pair has teamed up to produce Cortex-A57 processors and libraries to support early customer implementations on 16nm FinFET for ARM-based SoCs."

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Source: DigiTimes
Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ARM

 

ARM is a company that no longer needs much of an introduction.  This was not always the case.  ARM has certainly made a name for themselves among PC, tablet, and handheld consumers.  Their primary source of income is licensing CPU designs as well as their ISA.  While names like the Cortex A9 and Cortex A15 are fairly well known, not as many people know about the graphics IP that ARM also licenses.  Mali is the product name of the graphics IP, and it encompasses an entire range of features and performance that can be licensed by other 3rd parties.

I was able to get a block of time with Nizar Romdhane, Head of the Mali Ecosystem at ARM.  I was able to ask a few questions about Mali, ARM’s plans to address the increasingly important mobile graphics market, and how they will compete with competition from Imagination Technologies, Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.

 

We would like to thank Nizar for his time, as well as Phil Hughes in facilitating this interview.  Stay tuned as we are expecting to continue this series of interviews with other ARM employees in the near future.

Will ARMing your server room with Calxeda put you at a disadvantage?

Subject: Systems | March 25, 2013 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: arm, calxeda, Boston Viridis

Perhaps the most telling part of AnandTech's review of the Calxeda Boston Viridis server was the statement that "It's a Cluster, Not a Server" as that paints a different picture of the appliance in many tech's heads.  When you first open the chassis you are greeted by 24 2.5” SATA drive bays and a very non-standard looking motherboard full of PCIe slots, each of which can hold a EnergyCard which consists of four quad-core ARM SoCs, each with one DIMM slot and 4 SATA ports with the theoretical limit being 4096 nodes interconnected by physical, distributed layer-2 switches not virtualized switches which use CPU cycles.  Check out the results of AnandTech's virtual machine testing and a deeper look at the architecture of the cluster in the full article.

AAT_CalxedaServerClose-front_678x452.jpg

"ARM based servers hold the promise of extremely low power and excellent performance per Watt ratios. It's theoretically possible to place an incredible number of servers into a single rack; there are already implementations with as many as 1000 ARM servers in one rack (48 server nodes in a 2U chassis). What's more, all of those nodes consume less than 5KW combined (or around 5W per quad-core ARM node). But whenever a new technology is hyped, it's important to remain objective. The media loves to rave about new trends and people like reading about "some new thing"; however, at the end of the day the system administrator has to keep his IT services working and convince his boss to invest in new technologies."

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Source: AnandTech

Linaro Forms Linux Networking Group to Collaborate on Open Source Software for ARM Networking Hardware

Subject: General Tech | February 22, 2013 - 02:16 AM |
Tagged: oss, open source, networking, linux networking group, linux, linaro, arm

Linaro, a non-profit engineering group, announced a new collaborative organization called the Linux Networking Group at the Embedded Linux Conference in San Francisco this week. The new group will work on developing open source software to be used with ARM-based hardware in cloud, mobile, and networking industry sectors. Of course, being open source, the software for ARM SoCs will be used with Linux operating systems. One of the Linux Networking Group’s purposes is to develop a new “enhanced core Linux platform” for networking equipment, for example.

linaro-logo.png

The new Linux Networking Group is currently comprised of the following organizations:

  • AppliedMicro
  • ARM
  • Enea
  • Freescale
  • LSI
  • MontaVista
  • Nokia Siemens Networks
  • Texas Instruments

The new cooperative has announced four main goals for 2013:

  1. "Virtualization support with considerations for real-time performance, I/O optimization, robustness and heterogeneous operating environments on multi-core SoCs.
  2. Real-time operations and the Linux kernel optimizations for the control and data plane.
  3. Packet processing optimizations that maximize performance and minimize latency in data flows through the network.
  4. Dealing with legacy software and mixed-endian issues prevalent in the networking space."

Reportedly, Linaro will have an initial software release within the first half of this year. Further, the organization will follow up with monthly software updates to improve performance and add new features. More collaboration and the furthering of ARM-compatible open source software is always a good thing. It remains to be seen how useful the Linux Networking Group will be in pushing its ARM software goals, but here’s hoping it works out for the best.

The full press release can be found below.

Source: Linaro

You can run x86 programs on WinRT thanks to this beta tool, but don't expect miracles

Subject: General Tech | February 18, 2013 - 01:52 PM |
Tagged: winRT, arm, x86 emulator

While there was a previous hack which allowed you to run unsigned applications on WinRT devices it would not survive a reboot and so needed to be reapplied.  A programmer at XDA Developers has created a similar and improved tool which functions as a limited 32bit x86 emulator on WinRT.  Once you unlock your device and install the software, which is still in beta, you will be able to run a number of older games and a number of simple applications.  One thing it cannot do at this point is launch an x86 program from within an emulated x86 program so some installers will not function if they rely on decompressing and launching a second program.  Check out the latest version of the software and the FAQ by following the link from Hack a Day.

winrt.jpg

"It seems with a lot of black magic, [mamaich] over at the XDA Developers forum has a solution for us. He’s created a tool for running x86 Win32 apps on Windows RT. Basically, he’s created an x86 emulator for ARM devices that also passes Windows API calls to Windows RT."

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Source: Hack a Day

Raspberry Pi Releasing 5MP Camera Module

Subject: General Tech | February 10, 2013 - 12:45 PM |
Tagged: SFF, Raspberry Pi, camera, arm

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been working on offering a camera attachment for Raspberry Pi boards for some time now. The developers began with a 41MP sensor, but have since moved to a smaller (and cheaper) camera with a 5MP sensor. That particular model is nearly complete and should be available for purchase sometime this spring, according to the developers.

Raspberry Pi with Camera Module.jpg

The Raspberry Pi camera will be $25 which aligns itself well with the recently released Model A Raspberry Pi computer (which is also $25). The PCB hosting the camera module measures 20 x 25 x 10mm, while the camera module itself measures 8.5 x 8.5 x 5mm. It connects to the Raspberry Pi board via a flat cable into the CSI port below the Ethernet jack.

Raspberry Pi Camera_Front.jpg

The $25 camera is capable of capturing HD video as well as stills. It uses the Omnivision OV5647 sensor and a fixed focus lens. The 5MP sensor is capable of capturing still photos with a pixel resolution of 2592 x 1944 and up to 1080p video. While the developers are still working on the kinks to ensure that it the camera can do this, the sensor itself is capable of 1080p30, 720p60, and 640x480p90 video capture. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has stated that at least the 1080p30 capture mode is working.

Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi ISP hardware can support two cameras, but the PCB only provides a single CSI connector (so no 3D image capture using two cameras). The Raspberry Pi Foundation is providing this little CSI camera as an alternative to USB cameras. While it is possible to use USB cameras with the Raspberry Pi, USB driver overhead and USB bandwidth issues specific to the Raspberry Pi limit the performance that you can get out of USB cameras. The $25 CSI camera add-on bypasses the USB interface in favor of the CSI port that feeds into the image processing parts of the ARM SoC.

Raspberry Pi Camera_Back.jpg

The developers have not released an exact weight measurement, but have described it as being rather lightweight--making it ideal for use in drones, weather balloons, and other flying projects. For more information, the developers have set up a forum thread to answer questions and keep interested users updated on the project status.

Source: Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Foundation Launches $25 Model A PC With 256MB RAM

Subject: General Tech | February 5, 2013 - 05:32 AM |
Tagged: Raspberry Pi, model a, cheap computer, arm

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced that its Model A computer is (finally) available for purchase in Europe. The Raspberry Pi Model A is the small computer that the foundation originally pitched as the low-cost $25 PC. The other computer is the Model B, which has been available for some time now. The Model A is a stripped down version of the Model B covered previously. It features a single USB port, and half of the RAM of the latest Model B at 256MB. Further, there is no Ethernet jack on the model B, so users wanting Internet access will have to grab a USB NIC.

Raspberry Pi Model A_top.jpg

The Model A PC. Notice the lack of Ethernet support.

The Model A is powered by the same Broadcom BCM2835 chipset as the Model B. That includes an ARM1176JZFS processor clocked at 700MHz and a Videocore 4 GPU. The GPU is capable of hardware accelerating H.264 video decodes at up to 1080p30 and 40Mbps video. The GPU is rated at 24 GLOPS general compute performance, and it supports the OpenGL ES2.0 and OpenVG libraries.

Interestingly, the Model A was originally planned to have a mere 128MB of RAM, but with the update of the Model B to 512MB RAM, the Raspberry Pi Foundation was also able to include twice the RAM in the Model A while maintaining the $25 price point.

Raspberry Pi Model A_bottom.jpg

The underside of the Raspberry Pi Model A.

The Model A reportedly uses as much as a third of the power as the Model B, which makes it ideal for projects that will run off of battery or renewable energy sources--like solar. The Raspberry Pi Foundation suggests that the Model A will be useful in robotics and networking projects, for example.

The Model A Raspberry Pi PC is currently available in Europe, but US availability is coming soon. It will cost $25, but you will also need at least an SD card for the operating system and a DC power source (like a cell phone wall charger with male micro USB connector). The promised $25 PC is finally here (at least for those on the other side of the pond). What will you be using it for?

Read more about the Raspberry Pi at PC Perspective.

Source: Raspberry Pi

Skip the Pi and go straight to cardboard computing

Subject: General Tech | January 17, 2013 - 01:56 PM |
Tagged: cardboard, APC, ice cream sandwich, arm, Cortex A9, VIA

APC has released a version of their Rock PC called the Paper which comes in a recycled cardboard case which resembles a hard cover book.  Powered by a Cortex A9 based Via Wondermedia chip running at 800MHz, 512GB of RAM and 4GB of NAND storage and sporting a pair of USB ports, ethernet and HDMI this Ice Cream Sandwich system is great for browsing the web.  At an MSRP of $100 it is an interesting device, almost as expensive as a tablet but in a very different form factor, if it could be convinced to act as an HTPC you could hide it in your bookshelf and only the wiring would give it away as anything but another book.  Check out more at The Inquirer.

apc-paper-angle.jpg

"TAIWANESE TECHNOLOGY FIRM APC has shown off a PC that comes in a book-like cardboard case.

The firm calls its under $100 PC Paper, because it comes with a cardboard case that looks like a book. Inside Paper is the firm's redesigned Rock board. Both run Android and both are designed for mouse and keyboard inputs."

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Source: The Inquirer

ST Ericsson Shows off First FD-SOI Product

Subject: Editorial | January 16, 2013 - 09:41 PM |
Tagged: ST Ericsson, planar, PD-SOI, L8580, FinFET, FD-SOI, Cortex A9, cortex a15, arm

SOI has been around for some time now, but in partially depleted form (PD-SOI).  Quite a few manufacturers have utilized PD-SOI for their products, such as AMD and IBM (probably the two largest producers of SOI based parts).  Oddly enough, Intel has shunned SOI wafers altogether.  One would expect Intel to spare no expense to have the fastest semiconductor based chips on the market, but SOI did not provide enough advantages for the chip behemoth to outweigh the nearly 10% increase in wafer and production costs.  There were certainly quite a few interesting properties to PD-SOI, but Intel was able to find ways around bulk silicon’s limitations.  These non-SOI improvements include stress and strain, low-K dialectrics, high-K metal gates, and now 3D FinFET Technology.  Intel simply did not need SOI to achieve the performance they were looking for while still using bulk silicon wafers.

stlogo.jpg

Things started looking a bit grim for SOI as a technology a few years back.  AMD was starting to back out of utilizing SOI for sub-32 nm products, and IBM was slowly shifting away from producing chips based on their Power technology.  PD-SOI’s days seemed numbered.  And they are.  That is ok though, as the technology will see a massive uptake with the introduction of Fully Depleted SOI wafers.  I will not go into the technology in full right now, but expect another article further into the future.  I mentioned in a tweet some days ago that in manufacturing, materials are still king.  This looks to hold true with FD-SOI.

Intel had to utilize 3D FinFETs on 22 nm because they simply could not get the performance out of bulk silicon and planar structures.  There are advantages and disadvantages to these structures.  The advantage is that better power characteristics can be attained without using exotic materials all the while keeping bins high, but the disadvantage is the increased complexity of wafer production with such structures.  It is arguable that the increase in complexity completely offsets the price premium of a SOI based solution.  We have also seen with the Intel process that while power consumption is decreased as compared to the previous 32 nm process, the switching performance vs. power consumption is certainly not optimal.  Hence the reason why we have not seen Intel release Ivy Bridge parts that are clocked significantly faster than last generation Sandy Bridge chips. 

FD-SOI and planar structures at 22 nm and 20 nm promise the improve power characteristics as compared to bulk/FinFET.  It also looks to improve overall power vs. clockspeed as compared to bulk/FinFET.  In a nutshell this means better power consumption as well as a jump in clockspeed as compared to previous generations.  Gate first designs using FD-SOI could be very good, but industry analysts say that gate last designs could be “spectacular”.

SOIConsortiumFDSOIBulk.jpg

So what does this have to do with ST Ericsson?  They are one of the first companies to show a products based on 28 nm FD-SOI technology.    The ARM based NovaThore L8580 is a dual Cortex A9 design with the graphics portion being the IMG SGX544.  At first glance we would think that ST is behind the ball, as other manufacturers are releasing Cortex A15 parts which improve IPC by a significant amount.  Then we start digging into the details.

The fastest Cortex A9 designs that we have seen so far have been clocked around 1.5 GHz.  The L8580 can be clocked up to 2.5 GHz.  Whatever IPC improvements we see with A15 are soon washed away by the sheer clockspeed advantage that the L8580 has.  While it has been rumored that the Tegra 4 will be clocked up to 2 GHz in tablet form, ST is able to get the L8580 to 2.5 GHz in a smartphone.  NVIDIA utilizes a 5th core to improve low power performance, but ST was able to get their chip to run at 0.6v in low power mode.  This decrease in complexity combined with what appears to be outstanding electrical and thermal characteristics makes this a very interesting device.

The Cortex A9 cores are not the only ones to see an improvement in clockspeed and power consumption.  The well known and extensively used SGX544 graphics portion runs at 600 MHz in a handheld device, and is around 20% faster clocked than other comparable parts.

L8580.jpg

When we add all these things together we have a product that appears to be head and shoulders above current parts from Qualcomm and Samsung.  It also appears that these parts are comparable, if not slightly ahead, of the announced next generation of parts from the Cortex A15 crowd.  It stands to reason that ST Ericsson will run away with the market and be included in every new handheld sold from now until the first 22/20 nm parts are released?  Unfortunately for ST Ericsson, this is not the case.  If there was an Achilles Heel to the L8580 it is that of production capabilities.  ST Ericsson started production on FD-SOI wafers this past spring, but it was processing hundreds of wafers a month vs. the thousands that are required for full scale production.  We can assume that ST Ericsson has improved this situation, but they are not exactly a powerhouse when it comes to manufacturing prowess.  They simply do not seem to have the FD-SOI production capabilities to handle orders from more than a handful of cellphone and table manufacturers.

ST Ericsson has a very interesting part, and it certainly looks to prove the capabilities of FD-SOI when compared to competing products being produced on bulk silicon.  The Nova Thor L8580 will gain some new customers with its combination of performance and power characteristics, even though it is using the “older” Cortex A9 design.  FD-SOI has certainly caught the industrys’ attention.  There are more FD-SOI factoids floating around that I want to cover soon, but these will have to wait.  For the time being ST Ericsson is on the cutting edge when it comes to SOI and their proof of concept L8580 seems to have exceeded expectations.

Source: ST Ericsson