Taipei, Taiwan -- Looking to cater to its growing business in Taiwan and China, ARC International has released a tighter implementation of its multimedia subsystems specifically aimed at systems-on-chip running low-cost audio and video players.
The ARC Player is the latest addition to the company's line of programmable multimedia subsystems. It brings 32-bit processing to low-end, high-volume markets for portable consumer electronics, where some system designers are finding that 8-bit and 16-bit microcontrollers or hardwired blocks may not be suitable for new product lines but are wary of the added cost to migrate to 32 bits. The "extreme price sensitivity" of such markets has kept manufacturers from exploiting new opportunities, said Jason Blackwell, co-founder and CEO of S2 Data Corp.
As system designers in China experiment with portable media players, programmable systems will offer the flex- ibility needed until they hit upon a surefire high-volume design. ARC Player measures up well in this regard. Based on the 32-bit ARC600 microprocessor, it includes an MPEG-4 video decoder, MP3 decoder and multistandard audio codecs (optional audio decoders include WMA, AAC and Dolby Digital Consumer), as well as audio/video synchronization and a voice recorder.
Headroom for features
Drilling a little deeper, the family packs 100,000 gates, with 8 kbytes each of I and D cache. In an 0.18-micron process, it consumes 3.5 mm2 of space. For an MP3 player implementation, the system hits a peak of 30 MHz at about 36 milliwatts; for an audio/video media player, that jumps to about 125 MHz at 150 mW. Maximum frequency is 160 MHz, leaving some headroom for programming additional features.
Although ARC believes some of its big U.S. clients, such as SanDisk, will be interested in the platform, it's betting on strong interest from its growing ranks of Asian customers. ARC boosted royalties by 32 percent and bookings by 31 percent in the first half compared with the same period last year. Sales to companies in Asia represented close to 30 percent of revenue for the first half, a record high, up from less than 5 percent in the first half of 2005.
To spur activity among Chinese companies, ARC is offering a deal to design houses that work with Shanghai-based foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., said Dan Davis, a product-marketing manager at ARC. Design houses need not pay upfront licensing fees; instead, they will pay royalties after production starts.
Synthesizable cores are available now, and ARC will offer a hard core based on SMIC's 0.18-micron process in mid-2007. The software and hardware development tools include ARC's MetaWare suite, which includes a C/C++ compiler and assembler, debugger and user interface based on the Eclipse integrated development environment. MetaWare supports the GNU tool chain, available through a third party like Codito Technologies. "It brings all the tools of the 32-bit RISC into this marketplace," Davis said.
ARC believes the tightly coupled nature of the system will make it easy for SoC designers to add simple peripherals and get products out the door. "The barrier to entry is minimal," Davis said, but "we don't want to get killed with support." Thus, if designers who go through SMIC to avoid the upfront costs need support, they will have to buy ARC's Player Implementation Package. That will gain them access to the hardware development system, reference source code, product updates and fixes for 12 months, along with 40 hours of tech support and one seat at an ARC training course.
ARC declined to disclose its pricing on ARC Player and the implementation package but did say the latter only covers its cost.
See related image