As cell phones move further into 2.5G and 3G territories, the traditional DSP-baseband and RISC-core pairing on the same die is becoming inadequate for video and audio. Help is at hand in the form of application processor chips from the likes of NeoMagic, STMicroelectronics and Intel.
Intel plans to sprinkle Xscale RISC cores into more cell phones than just those using its PXA800F DSP/RISC baseband. The game plan is to separate the data-processing functionality from the signal-processing communications function, thereby beckoning the legions of Windows software houses to port their C-language applications to Xscale, regardless of whose baseband processor is used.
Intel's first design-ins are with its PXA250 at Hitachi and PXA252 at Mitac. The Xscale cores in those products have a decent DSP capability, which Intel envisions as dedicated to data processing and multimedia rather than communications.
But others think they can do better. To provide those Windows software houses with alternatives to Xscale, TI and ST developed the Omapi software/hardware interface standard between TI's market-leading Omap DSP/RISC baseband chips and application processors from ST and others.
ST's Nomadik is the first such device. Built around the ARM926EJ, the device includes DSP and Java acceleration extensions and ST's own VLIW DSP core with audio and video accelerators, along with a smorgasbord of I/Os.
Building on its expertise in multimedia acceleration, NeoMagic is offering its NiMagic family of application processors. Based on an ARM922T and proprietary video processing (DSP and pixel processing), the latest NiMagic targets MPEG-4 and videoconferencing applications.
So what, really, is an "applications processor"? To some degree it is whatever a company chooses to call by that name. A simplistic definition is a chip (or core) that provides conventional data processing as well as multimedia processing for signals passed between it and a communications processing engine. Of course, you can expand on that to include requirements for display support and extensive I/O capability, and even add "wireless" to the definition.
DSP technology is pervasive in this new genre, yet not one will be reported as a "DSP chip" sale. The application processor again demonstrates that DSP technology continues its relentless growth, but with ever-expanding nomenclature.
Will Strauss, President of Forward Concepts (www.fwdconcepts.com), is considered an authority on dsp markets.