FPUs and DSPs
Andes also offers a co-processor interface for a floating-point unit. Lin says, “Our FPU IP comes with two versions -- one with double/single precision, and another with single precision only. Both of them are IEEE 754 compliant.” The point is not developing a unique FPU, but making it easy for Andes customers to use co-processing capabilities.
Further, Andes provides DSPs. The first DSP, which Lin describes as a light-weight version, was released two years ago and used in such applications as audio. A more heavy-duty DSP is under development, to be launched in 2015, says Lin. DSPs are, in a way, necessary byproducts of Andes’s strategy as it promotes its CPU’s design that welcomes DSPs, while enabling its customers to use them as co-processors.
Andes has also opened up a few instruction sets to customers so that they can design new niche cores themselves to improve security, performance, and acceleration. Although too much customization often invites fragmentation and demand for more customer support, Lin tells us, “We’ve developed automatic extensions in tool chains.”
Frankwell Lin, president of Andes Technology, holding a smartphone. Although Andes isn't used for application processors, it's inside a WiFi, Bluetooth, FM, and GPS controller IC in the handheld.
While acknowledging the company’s uphill battle thus far, the Andes president firmly believes that it’s never too late to start on a new processor architecture. The company is holding a series of developers’ conferences open free to customers. They occur almost every month in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, Hsinchu, and other cities. Attended by 70 to 80 engineers, each event serves as a training ground for Andes customers and a must event for Andes to build its ecosystem.
Andes, with roughly 100 employees (80 percent of whom are engineers), is in the midst of seeking series C funding with a goal to raise $20 million. Lin is confident that it will get done in time: To plan the company’s IPO in 2016 is “a reasonable goal.”
Secret to success
Andres owes its success to a number of factors. First, it’s based in Taiwan. Noting that there are 200 semiconductor design houses in Taiwan, Lin points out that Taiwan is ranked as the world’s second largest IC design industry. Having a Taiwanese behemoth like MediaTek as a key investor has obviously become a huge boon for Andes.
The Taiwan government has helped Andes build its fledgling ecosystem, as Lin has acknowledged. Beyond becoming one of the leading investors in Andes with virtual capital, the government also spent about $100 million on the SoC program to help the SoC industry in Taiwan, which in turn helped Andes.
Equally important was that many in the industry have been craving for “an alternative to ARM,” a sentiment that Andes has exploited.
In Lin’s mind, however, what helped Andes grow most was customers’ efforts in looking for new applications. When Taiwan became a hub for newly created touch panel designs, Andes’s 32-bit MCU found its first, solid home in touch panel controllers.
The global reach of Andes CPU IPs has been also critical. Beyond its activities in Taiwan and China, Andes has picked up IP licensees in Korea, Japan, and also in the United States, according to Lin.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times