LONDON As expected processor licensor ARM Holdings plc and Handshake Solutions NV, a Royal Philips Electronics subsidiary, have developed an asynchronous processor based on the ARM9 core. The ARM996HS is thought to be the first commercial clockless processor and is being described as particular suited to use as an automotive microcontroller.
ARM and Handshake (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) announced they were developing the processor back in October 2004, along with an unnamed lead customer, which it appears could be Philips.
The processor was designed to use Handshake Solutions’ clockless IC design technology and is said to be suitable for automotive, medical and deeply embedded control applications. Although reduced power consumption, due to the lack of clock circuitry, is one benefit the clockless design also produces a low electromagnetic signature because of the diffuse nature of digital transitions within the chip.
Because clockless processors consume zero dynamic power when there is no activity, they can significantly extend battery life compared with clocked equivalents.
“Handshake Solutions has collaborated with ARM to provide the design community with a new type of low-power processor with very low EMI,” said Wouter Van Roost, chief executive officer of Handshake Solutions, in a statement issued by ARM (Cambridge, England).
“Now we can provide our Partners with the first commercially-available clockless processor that is very reliable over a wide range of conditions, maintaining real-time responsiveness while also extending battery life for applications in automotive, medical and deeply embedded consumer devices,” said John Cornish, vice president of marketing for the ARM processor division.
“As long-time users of Handshake Technology, we recognize its potential to become a key ingredient for automotive microcontrollers, addressing important automotive requirements such as robustness, low power and low EMI,” said Harry Inia, general manager, of the automotive business line at Philips Semiconductors.
At that time the design was expected to be completed early in 2005 with the lead customer shipping to customers in a 0.14-micron manufacturing process before the end of 2005.
The ARM996HS processor can be used in both synchronous and asynchronous system-on-chip designs, ARM said. The lack of clock-edge driven current peaks should enable easier integration with analog components, in mixed-signal SOCs.
ARM has recognized the potential of clockless IC design for many years and supported the Amulet project, based on an early ARM instruction set, led by Professor Steve Furber at Manchester University. Handshake’s technology, when originally developed by Philips, was used in 8051 microcontroller products that were produced in millions.
Handshake, has been included on the last two iterations of the Silicon 60, a list of emerging technology startups.