SAN JOSE, Calif. ARC International has tweaked its configurable processor to run digital signal processing code faster while cutting the part's power consumption in half.
Called ARC600, the processor core runs at 290 MHz "worst case" and consumes 40 microwatts per megahertz. Built without cache memory by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the core takes up 27,000 gates, which makes it one of the smaller processors in the market, ARC said.
To boost performance, ARC lengthened the pipeline from four to five stages and changed the cache so that it can be used as a large virtual memory or RAM.
Furthermore, the company added an optional three-stage DSP pipeline, which appears as a preverified RTL option in ARC's design software. Using the DSP extension makes the core bigger but allows designers to reduce the overall frequency, ARC said. Alternatively, designers could create as many as 128 of their own instructions for the same job-a key feature of the company's configurable processors.
"You've got certain levers you can pull to reach the balance that is important to you," said Edward Pazmino, product-marketing manager at ARC.
To reduce power consumption, the company said it has found a way to remove redundant cache memory accesses and has applied gated clocks to registers when they aren't being updated. The processor also retains the 32/16-bit instruction-set architecture to reduce memory usage and power.
The core is being packaged in a way that isolates it from peripherals and the system bus, which ARC said should make it easier to pack more processors into a chip design. This CPU "island" includes a synchronous interface that can connect to BVCI and Amba buses.
To verify the core, ARC said that it has run compiler tests using FPGAs, tested for line coverage, as well as cycle-accurate simulators to verify the RTL. Pazmino said that the company is also considering working with structured-ASIC vendors to verify the core in silicon.
ARC said it is ready to license the core, which is binary-compatible with its current A5 processor, to customers. The company declined to disclose its licensing fees.