The licensable-processor market has gained a new entrant in the form of Improv Systems Inc., which has developed a configurable very long instruction word (VLIW)-based architecture that the company says can deliver performance of up to 1.6 billion operations per second (bops).
Already, the fledgling IP supplier has the confidence of several leading semiconductor vendors, some of which have access to an assortment of powerful processor cores. Philips Semiconductors today will be announced as the first licensee of Improv's Jazz Programmable System Architecture (PSA). In the next few weeks, Improv plans to unveil separate licensing deals with large European and Japanese semiconductor companies, as well as a U.S.-based company.
"We've created a hybrid [architecture] that's very good for control, as well as DSP-intensive bit-stream operations," said Cary Ussery, founder and chief executive of Improv, Beverly, Mass. "Part of the value we bring is not only the high-performance architecture, but we've placed a lot of focus on how to develop software-particularly a compiler system that automates the process of allocation to our multiple processors-and completing advanced co-generation."
Improv and Philips are working on a test-chip implementation using Philips' 0.2-micron process. The test chip contains five independent Jazz processors and 22 Kbytes of data memory. The test chip is expected to be available for evaluation this year. Philips is also developing ASICs and ASSPs using the Jazz-PSA architecture.
"We feel Improv's technology fits into our vision of developing system-on-a-chip platforms that get our customers into key markets early," said Bob Payne, vice president of system-ASIC technology at Philips. "The introduction of new, powerful configurable-VLIW processing capability into our ASIC portfolio provides our customers with a high-performance alternative to custom logic blocks."
Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts Co., Tempe, Ariz., said it's not surprising that Philips would license a new VLIW-based architecture, even though the company already has other processors in its portfolio.
"The fact is, every mainline semiconductor company is in a situation now where the market is turning increasingly toward DSP, whether it be Internet-related, multimedia, or whatever," Strauss said. "I think the message is clear that you're going to need several different DSP items of IP in your stable if you want to cover a lot of different markets."
Improv's PSA provides a combination of multiple VLIW-based DSP engines, online chip memories, and programmable I/O components, tied together through a communication structure, Ussery said. VLIW has increasingly become the architecture of choice for high-performance DSPs. Texas Instruments Inc.'s TMS320C6x, and the joint venture StarCore, from Lucent Technologies Inc. and Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector, both use VLIW schemes.
Each Jazz processor can contain from five to 16 computation units in its data path, providing 500-mips to 1.6-bops performance at a 100-MHz clock rate, Ussery said.
"The processor is configurable, so you can change the data path," he said. "A typical data path has an arithmetic logic unit (ALU), multiply and accumulate (MAC) shifter, counter, and other peripherals. With two MAC units inside each processor at 100 MHz, you're getting 200 million MAC operations per second."
Ussery doesn't see Improv competing directly with the established DSP powerhouses in the standard-chip arena, but the IP supplier will serve semiconductor companies and OEMs creating ASIC and ASSP implementations.
Companies trying to create ASICs that provide both DSP and conventional processor capabilities "are trying to address it by throwing together different cores and hand-rolling a chip design," he said. "Unfortunately, that gives them a very long time-to-market, is extremely costly on the design and component side, and the tools they have available haven't supported the deep-submicron SOC capabilities of the silicon."
Improv provides predesigned application-software components that customers can use to jump-start product-development efforts. The company's VirtualIP components are licensed as source code and include documentation, test benches, and application notes. Improv offers the VirtualIP cores for voice-over-packet, embedded protocols, media processing, and network processing.
"For performance-driven applications such as multichannel communications, media processing, third-generation wireless, and network processing this will be the necessary approach to deal with time-to-market and cost issues," Ussery said. "From a customization standpoint, this opens the door for countless applications to be developed quickly and efficiently."
Improv offers multiuse, per-use, and single-use licensing options.