LONDON CPU core shipments reached 5.3 billion in 2008 and are set to double by 2012, according to market analysis firm The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.).
DSP and GPU IP ship in much smaller volumes, but shipments are growing quickly. DSP shipments will grow at a compound annual rate of 20 percent through 2013, and GPU shipments in that timeframe will grow at a staggering 60 percent per year, the firm said.
Mobile phone handsets are the largest target application for processor cores. Advanced handsets typically use one CPU for the user interface and applications, and another for communications. Similarly, separate DSPs may perform audio multimedia processing and communications. Finally, a GPU is essential for processing 3D and vector-graphics images.
Another high-growth segment is home-electronics applications, including Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and digital picture frames, which will create demand for processor IP to support high-definition audio and multimedia, advanced user interfaces, and Internet connectivity. Other markets spurring processor-IP shipments include Flash storage, hard drives, media players, smart cards, and microcontrollers.
ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) dominates the market and Linley Group expects it to strengthen its position yet further. Smaller players ARC International plc (St. Albans, England) and Tensilica Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) offer customized solutions that should enable them to carve out niches. MIPS Technologies Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) is well established and reaps among the highest royalties per core in the industry. The company uniquely offers a multithreaded CPU core and a CPU rated in excess of 1-GHz. Ceva Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), the leading supplier of DSP IP, has secured many design wins, and this success should continue into a new generation of products as OEMs strive to maintain backward compatibility between 2G, 3G, and 4G designs. Pursuing audio and wireless-baseband designs, Ceva faces VeriSilicon, whose ZSP DSP has also gained wins in these areas. Early to market, Imagination Technologies Group plc (Kings Langley, England) is by far the leading supplier of GPU IP.
"Next-generation handsets and other digital systems are using multiple processors per device, driving market growth," said Joseph Byrne, senior analyst at The Linley Group, in a statement. "Still, IP companies will be under pressure to sign new licenses and generate royalty income in order to sustain their costly design teams."