The engineering team that designed the clusters of processing elements used in ZMS processors has its roots in British graphics specialist 3Dlabs. Creative, a long-time 3Dlabs' shareholder since 1994, finally acquired the fabless graphics chip company in 2002, when 3Dlabs was running dry on cash after the dotcom bubble.
Leow, running 3Dlabs since the acquisition, explained: "After a lot of soul-searching, we decided to start with a clean sheet of paper by flipping 3Dlabs' focus. We transformed 3Dlabs' business from pursuing high-end workstations that require bleeding-edge graphics applications, to a low-power, handheld market demanding Web-centric, multimedia-intensive applications."
The key to Creative's success now rests on how well Creative can leverage the power of ZiiLABS' new processor architecture and Creative's own experience in personal digital entertainment devices.
ZMS's architecture with clusters of processing elements, branded as 'StemCell Computing,' stands out, at a time when many apps processors today are designed to use multiple ARM cores to run more multimedia tasks or their ARM cores are integrated with hardwired cores -- each dedicated to specific tasks such as graphics, high-definition video decoding, image processing or video encode/decode.
ZMS's processing elements are fully programmable, with its same hardware designed to do video, audio effects, accelerated 3D graphics and 2D processing -- all efficiently in a highly parallel manner, according to Leow. That's how ZiiLABS' newest apps processor, even when clocked at 1 GHz, can run without burning a lot of power, he added.
Nick Murphy, vice president of architecture at ZiiLABS, explained that a single task such as 1080p video decoding can be processed by using all of the processing elements. Or, several different tasks -- like H.264 video decoding and 3D texture mapping -- can be simultaneously performed on multiple clusters of processing elements. "You can time slice it," Murphy said.
Running so many instructions in parallel over clusters of processing elements to do multiple tasks such as graphics, video and image processing is scary, though, especially for those who may have struggled with Philips Semiconductors' original TriMedia programmable processor in mid 1990's. But Leow assured that ZMS-08 offers only as much programmability as an OEM needs, and ZiiLABS offer all the codes written to API of the chip. All OEMs would have to do is "to call that API," he added.