UK chip company launches £3 processor

Cheap, reconfigurable consumer electronics are promised by Xmos's powerful hardware-emulating chip

Bristol-based chip company Xmos launched its latest processor line, its first 65nm chips, on Tuesday.

The XS1-L family of chips are designed to emulate hardware through software programming.

"We're bringing reprogrammability to the consumer electronics industry", chief executive James Foster told ZDNet UK.

Available in one- or two-core versions, with 64KB or 128KB of internal RAM, the chips can emulate USB interfaces, audio processors, Ethernet adaptors, display drivers or other electronic circuits, and can run multiple functions simultaneously. Every core can handle eight threads, with each thread being guaranteed to react fast enough to incoming data to accurately model dedicated hardware.

"Applications can be developed in record time," Foster said. He cited an Xmos-based product that used a single chip to link a GPS receiver, an SD card containing video and a full-colour LED video display to present different content at various locations. "That was programmed in C in two weeks," he said.

The single-core version of the chip will cost under $5 (£3). Both the single- and dual-core versions will be available for production in the third quarter, according to Xmos.

"At under $5 and working with cheap, two-layer printed circuit boards, this technology is as accessible to people in their garden sheds as it is to the consumer electronics industry," said Foster. "The same ideas are relevant to inventors and to high-volume manufacturing. We're hoping to inspire a new breed of inventor."

Xmos has an Eclipse-based development system with a library of preconfigured code and a developers' community available on its website. The company claims to have some 400 customers, the largest of which is taking around 25,000 parts a month. Foster said Xmos expects to ship "hundreds of thousands" of chips per month by the end of the year, achieving break-even by 2010.

"The standard custom chip model is starting to break," said David May, chief technology officer of Xmos. "The economics are getting hard; if you can offer the same functionality [as existing custom chips] at a 10th of the cost, you can achieve 100 times the volume.

The XS1-L chip from Xmos.

 
The XS1-L chip that allows the emulation of hardware.
 

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