ARM Announces Integrated Multiprocessor Core

ARM, a provider of embedded RISC processors, today announced at the Embedded Processor Forum the availability of a new processor called the MPCore, which has been developed as part of the company’s ongoing partnership with NEC Electronics.

The MPCore synthesizable multiprocessor, based on the company’s ARMv6 architecture, can be configured to contain between one and four processors delivering up to 2,600 MIPS of performance. MIPS — or “million instructions per second” — is often used as a benchmark for processor performance. The measure of MIPS in this case is, according to ARM, based on processor clock rates of between 335 and 550 MHz.

The MPCore multiprocessor implements what the company calls “adaptive shutdown” and “intelligent energy manager” technologies, which are designed to reduce power consumption by up to 85 percent, according to ARM.

ARM’s processor cores are used by several chip manufacturers to develop specialized system-on-chip processors. For example, Intel uses ARM cores in its popular XScale processors, as does TI in its OMAP chips. NEC Electronics plans to use the new ARM processor in high-performance, low-power products across the consumer electronics, automotive and mobile markets.

Multiprocessing Trajectory

Multiprocessing is widely used for demanding applications that execute multiple tasks at the same time, such as consumer entertainment and convergence devices in the home. Examples include a set-top box recording several TV channels while sharing home movies across the Internet, and an in-car navigation system delivering simultaneous back-seat video gaming.

“Multiprocessing can give system designers very high processing performance combined with low-power consumption,” said Mike Muller, CTO of ARM. “Through our partnership with NEC Electronics, we have developed the groundbreaking MPCore multiprocessor which delivers the benefits of scalable multiprocessing in a configurable and easy-to-use implementation.”

The MPCore multiprocessor supports up to four-way symmetric multiprocessing, up to four-way asymmetric multiprocessing or any combination of both. The ability to support multiple workloads, the company said, will help address the needs of networking devices to process more packet streams and higher data throughput.

“The announcement of the high-performance, low-power MPCore multiprocessor is a major milestone in our ongoing collaboration with ARM,” said Hirokazu Hashimoto, executive vice president of NEC Electronics. “The MPCore multiprocessor enables us to deliver high-performance and low-power solutions for next-generation multimedia processing applications.”

Software and OS Support

The MPCore multiprocessor supports several software models and, according to ARM, will support a range of operating system and application software.

Currently, ARM processors — which include Intel’s XScale processors — appear to be one of the most popular architectures for new embedded Linux designs. MontaVista will support MPCore’s power-management technologies using the power-management capabilities built into the company’s embedded Linux “consumer electronics edition” and toolkit. Linux natively supports symmetric multiprocessing.

“The new ARM multiprocessor core will enable device manufacturers to deliver high-performance applications,” said Glenn Seiler, director of product marketing at MontaVista Software. “Developers will appreciate the strong synergy between this technology and MontaVista Consumer Electronics Edition’s dynamic power management capabilities and native Linux support for symmetric multiprocessing.”

Other Details

The MPCore multiprocessor is based on the ARMv6 architecture, with media extensions for next-generation, rich-multimedia devices and ARM Jazelle Java acceleration. It also features configurable Level 1 caches, 64-bit interfaces, vector floating-point coprocessors and programmable interrupt distribution.

The processor’s adaptive shutdown technology is designed to give dynamic power consumption as low as 0.57 mW per MHz from a generic 130-nanometer process.

In addition to the adaptive shutdown technology, ARM’s intelligent energy manager technology can help reduce power consumption by dynamically predicting the required processor performance and by lowering the processor’s voltage draw and clock frequency.

The MPCore multiprocessor also lets system designers view the core as a single “uniprocessor,” which the company said can help simplify application development.

The MPCore multiprocessor is available for licensing from ARM now, but first production will not happen until the first half of 2005. An evaluation system for the MPCore multiprocessor with Linux 2.6 and development tools is available to allow developers early access to the MPCore multiprocessor designs.

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