ARM Upgrades Core Tech, Adds GPU Support

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — ARM Holdings PLC kicked off its ARM: techcon3 conference Wednesday for developers of its embedded processors with the introduction of a new processor generation as well as support for GPU developers.

ARM does not make and manufacture processors the way Intel, AMD and nVidia operate. Rather, it makes technological IP, which it calls macros, and sells them to licensees. The licensees can then modify the core to varying degrees, from a little to a lot, and make their own processors.

Licensees include Alcatel, Broadcom, Marvell nVidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, ST Microelectronics and Texas Instruments, among others including Apple for the iPod and iPhone. ARM claims it has sold 15 billion chips to date, with 20 different processor designs and 600 licensees.

Recently, ARM increased the performance of its high end processors, but the A5 is meant as a mid-range to low-end product.

The new ARM Cortex-A5 processor comes with one to four processor cores running at up to 1GHz. The A5 is designed to replace the ARM9 and ARM11 processors and eventually those two processors will be phased out, according to Eric Schorn, vice president of marketing in the processor division at ARM.

The Cortex-A5’s cores run up to 3 times faster than each core in the ARM9 product and consume half as much power. Schorn said the Cortex-A5 is to be used in low-end to mid-range cellphones, smart appliances such as televisions, photo frames and printers.

They will also enable a new generation of simple cell phones for the emerging world, like Africa, where SMS messaging is far more important than the frivolous chatter it’s used for in the west.

“In the emerging world, the handset is becoming the first means of communication,” Schorn told”The Cortex A5 will enable even rudimentary Internet capabilities in these areas that have none.”

The Mali developer network

ARM also announced the Mali developer network for supporting its Mali GPU. The company has about two dozen licensees for the GPU, but what it found was those who were building GPU support into their products weren’t getting much out of the chips, according to Elan Lennard, portal program manager at ARM’s Processing division.

So the company created the Mali Developers Center, a portal with all the tools, sample code, documentation, developers’ platforms and forums to support Mali developers. A total of nine tools, like shaders and lighting sample code, will be available free of charge to qualified developers.

The Mali GPU is capable of 1080p high definition resolution with 2D and 3D graphics and 4x and 16x full scene anti-aliasing. It supports Khronos OpenGL ES 2.0, Adobe Flash and Java code as well. The tools are available on Windows and Red Hat Linux.

Next page: Keynotes, Cypress Semiconductor and more

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Keynotes, Cypress Semiconductor and more

You know a show is modest when the keynotes are in the exhibit hall, right next to the demo booths. Such was the case here, as the show kicked off with a keynote by Cypress Semiconductor founder and CEO T.J. Rodgers.

Rodgers, one of the Silicon Valley’s most celebrated chip engineers who does not work for Intel, showed how embedded technology and programmable system on a chip (PSoC) could be applied to his winery, dubbed Clos De La Tech, where he makes Pinot Noir wines.

Rodgers, a PhD in electrical engineering, also has a background in chemistry and physics. He learned that if grapes got more sunlight, they would be rich in certain flavinoids like Quercetin, so he removed the leaves from the grapevines to increase sun exposure. But then he learned if the grapes got above a certain temperature, they would lose their color.

So what does a good tech geek do? He embeds temperature sensors in some grapes and ties them to a sprinkler system that sprays water on them when the temperature gets too high.

“A programmable system can do a function you never thought of if you have a few hours. The moral of that story is programmable systems allow you to solve problems you didn’t know existed for customers you haven’t met,” said Rodgers.

This led into a talk about programmable systems on a chip that only an electrical engineer would find fascinating or be able to follow. One hundred and two slides flew by in 50 minutes and he rarely stopped for a breath. In the end, he was asking the audience for ideas.

“I want to map PSoCs onto a new area. We got microcontrollers pretty well covered. Do we want to look at DSP world? Ethernet nodes?” he asked the audience. “Those are directions and we’re really scratching our head and I would really appreciate ideas from you,” he added, before giving out his e-mail address to the audience.

He was followed by Mike Muller, CTO of ARM, who discussed how ARM’s business model is based on partnership. “We have a competitor not far from here with a slightly grayer view of the world with a slightly standard product churned out in volume,” he said of Intel, one exit down the Interstate 101 freeway.

ARM’s partner model has resulted in 15 billion parts shipped to market, and in the new era of the Internet, you have more people browsing the Internet with mobile devices than you have browsing on PCs.

Software, he said, has become increasingly important. “It’s easy to talk about hardware things but it’s about delivering systems with software into the hands of consumers. Building systems is about having a strong community to provide all the things you need. From our side, it’s about providing a process roadmap, the cores, the tools to program and graphics units to accelerate it,” he said.

The opportunities ahead for ARM are in the tens of billions of handheld devices, rather than the hundreds of millions of PC, he added.

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