Intel and Analog Devices ring in new DSP

Companies vow to split what they hope will be the spoils from a higher performance DSP chip, set to ship next year

Intel and Analog Devices Tuesday announced a new digital signal processor (DSP) architecture designed to pave the way for the next generation of mobile computing devices.

Called Micro Signal Architecture, the technology aims to deliver high-performance signal processing capabilities for mobile computing devices, ranging from MP3 players to cellular phones, operating on 2.5G or 3G cellular networks.

These networks, which are expected to roll out in the UK in 2002, require hefty computing power because they allow for both digital (such as video) and analog (such as voice) communications. The first DSP based on Micro Signal Architecture will sample at 300MHz or 336Mips (millions of instructions per second). The companies say, however, that the core has the capability to scale in clock speed to 1GHz.

Micro Signal Architecture also includes a number of new features, such as a new multimedia instruction set that promises a six to tenfold increase in performance and a new dynamic power-management technology that lets the DSP scale back its clock frequency to reduce power consumption.

Intel and Analog Devices also added microcontroller features and support for a new software compiler that allows application developers to program code in C or C++ languages, which they say will make for faster time-to-market for customers.

Micro Signal Architecture targets a convergence of technologies; however, Intel and Analog Devices do not intend to converge on each other's product plans.

Analog Devices will target the market for stand-alone digital signal processors, whereas Intel will package the DSP with its own XScale processor and flash memory.

"We're each going to be emphasising what each company does best," said Jerry Fishman, president and chief executive Analog Devices.

"We've always been... saying that ours is a combination of DSP with high-performance analogue products. Whereas, Intel is favouring more applications that are in concert with its StrongARM processor... and flash memory," Fishman said.

Analog Devices' target market would therefore include, MP3 players, cameras, and digital subscriber line (DSL) modems. The company said it would also use the DSP in chipsets that integrate its high-performance analog and radio frequency technologies.

"Intel holds the original patent on DSP technology, so in fact DSPs are not new to us," said Ron Smith, vice president and general manager of Intel's Wireless Communications and Computing Group. "We are not, however, in the general purpose DSP market and we don't intend to get into that market."

Intel will focus, instead, on "new wireless devices that have memory, computing, and communications subsystems," he said.

Those devices are, in simpler terms, cellular phones, said Hans Geyer, vice president and general manager of Intel's Cellular Communications Division. "This will clearly be part of our Personal Internet Client Architecture," he said.

Personal Internet Client Architecture, or PCA, includes a number of building blocks for cellular phones, such as Intel's XScale processor and flash memory. The new DSP architecture rounds out PCA, Geyer said.

"We would potentially put all of these technologies into a single chip. However, there are multiple ways to partition it," he said.

The new Micro Signal Architecture DSP core will begin sampling to customers early next year, the companies said. Analog Devices and Intel each plan to begin shipping products in six to 12 months.

With the Micro Signal Architecture announcement, a battle of integration has begun. Intel, with its combined DSP, Xscale, and flash memory offerings will face Texas Instruments (TI) and Motorola. TI currently enjoys the number one spot in the DSP market with a whopping 48 percent share, according to Will Strauss, an analyst with Forward Concepts.

With TI's market share and the engineering mind share it has created, it will not be easy for Intel to break into the cellular phone market, Strauss said.

"TI has the most extensive software support tools in the industry," he said.

TI has developed its own next generation DSP processor, called TMS 320C55X or C55X for short, which is aimed at 2.5G and 3G cellular networks.

"That DSP is designed to deliver five times the performance at one-sixth the power consumption of our current DSP," said Mike MacMahan, director of research and development for TI's Wireless Group.

Where Intel will combine its DSP and processor architectures, so will TI. The company, in keeping with its current offerings, will also be able to offer its C55X DSP as part of a single chip offering that combines it with a RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processor core and memory, MacMahan said.

Motorola, thanks to its licensing deal with ARM, will offer its own integrated DSP/processor core products in the future as well.

Additional reporting by Michael Kanellos, CNET

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