LONDON – ICube Corp., a two-year old fabless startup out of Shenzhen, China, backed by a publicly listed holding company in Hong Kong, is going after the Android mobile computing market using its own architecture of multicore processor.
The company claims its Harmony Unified Processor architecture is the first ever developed to handle both logic and graphics processing in a single core and in each of multiple processing pipelines.
ICube Corp., now a subsidiary of the recently renamed ICube Technology Holdings Ltd., has received 65-nm silicon of the first instantiation of Harmony, the dual-core IC1, back from its foundry supplier. The company is aiming at a 2012 roll out of samples and volume production.
Any attempt to introduce a novel instruction set architecture to compete against the broadly-supported ARM, x86 from Intel and others, is likely to be treated with skepticism by many. Objections are likely to be on commercial as much as on technical grounds. However, ICube claims that starting with a blank sheet of paper and specifically targeting the needs of mobile devices, has given it power-efficiency and cost-efficiency advantages over the established architectures. It also claims that with the advent of Android the barriers to entry for a new architecture are much lower than they once were.
The executive credentials of the company suggest that it could at least have a chance of success. Chief technology officer Simon Moy has 20 years' experience having spent several years as a principal engineer with Nvidia Corp. where he worked on the hardware design of the vertex shaders and stream processors in several generations of GPUs. Prior to that Moy worked at Silicon Graphics, IBM and LSI Logic.
Chief scientist Fred Chow's expertise is on the compiler side where he has 30 years experience, having worked as principal engineer at MIPS, chief scientist at Silicon Graphics and director of compiler engineering at PathScale Inc.
"Developing our own intellectual property from the ground up has been a key differentiation of ICube from other technology companies in China," said Moy, in a statement. "This provides us with much greater areas for innovation, enables us to leverage the latest semiconductor trends and lowers the cost of our system-on-a-chip products relative to other chipmakers. We are also proud to have attracted and built a world-class development team composed of Silicon Valley veterans and top engineering talents in China. We are confident that our revolutionary high technology product will be well received by the market and create value for our shareholders."
More information on ICube and the Harmony Unified Processor architecture are due to appear in the next issue of EE Times Confidential. Further details of the China fabless chip company sector, including a database of company details can be found in the 'China Fabless Profile' report from EE Times. If you are interested in receiving the report, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to ICube.
I reckon its success chiefly depends on how they can sell the architecture to some big Chinese telecom OEM's, like Huawei and ZTE. If they can make it as a "State will", it definitely will succeed. Remember TD-CDMA and TD-LTE? All the major telecom OEM's are licking their ass.
It may not be necessary to even use the byte code -- parse the source then design hardware that evaluates the if clauses and does the appropriate assignments. I have done it for C statements. Also, using the byte code pretty much is done by a JIT compiler at run time so why can't they write a new JIT for their architecture and use existing compilers?
I don't think marketing is such a serious issue here.
The primary issue is the competency of the team behind this project and the supporting infrastructure available to them in China.
I said earlier however that economic and political issues were part of the equation. In that respect it might be worthwhile reviewing Andy Grove's take on the subject: http://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/20100701_howtomakeanamericanjob_bloombergopinion.pdf
Not only that, but because existing architectures are indeed well established they need to show a compelling benefit to dislodge them. A few tens of percentage points will not suffice. Grove's Law would postulate they'd need around 10-fold improvement to disrupt the incumbents.
"ICube claims ... power-efficiency and cost-efficiency advantages over the established architectures". This is easy to claim but requires data to substantiate. I will, as the saying goes, believe it when I see it. (And I don't just mean the PowerPoint!)