TAIPEI — With ARM reigning as king of the CPU IP market and Android dominating mobile operating systems, is there any room for anyone with new architectures to challenge these leaders’ well established ecosystems?
Few, as far as we know, would dare such folly. The exception to this prudent rule is Andes Technology, based in Taiwan and ready to rumble.
Focused more on the embedded market, Andes and its CPU licensees have been finding enough niches to get around ARM’s stronghold. Andes CPU cores currently apply to touch panel controllers, WiFi, Bluetooth, FM, GPS controllers, and now sensor hubs squarely targeted at the IoT segment.
Indeed, Andes has already proven naysayers wrong. Twelve of its customers have shipped, altogether, by the middle of August, 500 million SoCs containing its CPU core. Andes has signed 100 IP licensing agreements with 81 customers, by the end of August, according to Frankwell Lin, president of Andes. That’s a milestone nobody in the electronics industry would have predicted for this little Hsinchu-based company just a few years ago.
Don't make it a mission
When asked about China’s plan to launch a homegrown operating system this fall to challenge ecosystems dominated by Android, iOS, and Windows, Lin told EE Times, “I don’t know much about the specifics of China’s homegrown OS, other than what I read in the media.” However, whether CPU or OS, there’s always opportunity for new innovations to challenge the establishment, he noted. "But my advice to them is, 'Don't make it a mission... Make sure the new OS [or CPU] is open to the world.' "
Indeed, that’s been pretty much the Andes strategy.
Rather than blowing its own horn as an ARM or MIPS killer, Andes, founded in 2005, has kept a low profile in its media activities. “We’ve been trying not to stir too much attention” from competitors, says Lin.
But in seeking to extend its technology and recruit new licensees, Andes’s strategy has been anything but low-key. Andes has compiled specific benchmarks that clarify how its family of chips meet or beat ARM cores in performance, power consumption, die size, and cost. The company even named its chips to indicate the ARM cores they target. For example, the Andes N12 competes with the ARM11, the N10 with the ARM9, and its latest N8 with the ARM7 and ARM's microcontroller offerings.
Andes still regards itself as a startup, although nine years have passed since its inception. Andes spent its first five years designing its own CPU architecture and building the infrastructure and ecosystem to support it. From then on, the company has been constantly evolving its instruction set architecture (ISA). Its third-generation ISA rolled out in 2012. The fourth generation is scheduled for launch in 2016.
In parallel, the company has been pumping out a series of Andes embedded microprocessor cores -- ranging from low- to high-end. Andes’s niche core series includes those specifically targeted at security applications and a series of cores designed by its customers who leveraged instruction-set extensions allowed by Andes.
Andes also offers platform IPs, described by some industry observers as “subsystems,” Lin says. They include a high-end platform IP for MCU-type SoC applications, and a low-power IP platform, dubbed AE210P, for IoT applications announced in the first quarter this year.
AE210P, unveiled earlier this year, is for low-power IoT and MCU types of SoC applications.
(Source: Andes Technology)
One Andes customer is already using Andes’s high-end platform IP for a “thin client,” says Lin, adding that an SoC for a “sensor hub” used in Chrome PC, such as HP Pavillion x360, uses Andes core N8.
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