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A Guide to Embedded Processors

Eighth Edition

Published May 2014

Authors: Jag Bolaria and Tom R. Halfhill

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"A Guide to Embedded Processors" provides an in-depth look at 32- and 64-bit high-speed embedded processors with one to four CPU cores. This completely revised report from The Linley Group contains 230+ pages of information on Altera, AMD, AppliedMicro, Broadcom, Cavium, Freescale, Intel, LSI, Marvell, Macom/Mindspeed, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Via Technologies, and Xilinx.

The report focuses on general-purpose RISC and x86 processors that have one to four CPU cores running at 600MHz or more, excluding specialized architectures (e.g. DSPs, NPUs). Note: previous editions of this report covered all processors in this category, but this one focuses on chips with four or fewer CPU cores. Another report, "A Guide to Multicore Processors," covers 32- and 64-bit embedded processors with four or more cores.

"A Guide to Embedded Processors" covers Altera’s SoC FPGAs; Freescale’s QorIQ processors; AppliedMicro’s X-Gene; Intel’s embedded Atom, and Ivy Bridge and Haswell processors; Cavium’s Octeon II and Octeon III families; Broadcom’s XLP-I and XLP-II processors plus StrataGX processors; LSI’s Axxia processors; AMD's R-Series and G-Series SoCs; Texas Instruments’ Sitara and DaVinci SoCs; and other RISC and x86 processors.

This handy guide, packed with valuable information, brings you up-to-date on the newest developments in this important market and gives you the analysis you need to help choose a supplier or partner in this field. In addition to processors optimized for networking and communications, the report discusses processors that can be used in high-end consumer applications and printers. It also provides market share and market size data for the embedded segments covered.

"A Guide to Embedded Processors" begins with tutorials on the key technologies in these products, background on the embedded market, and a discussion of the newest technology and market trends. Following these introductory chapters, the report delivers thorough coverage of all announced products in this field. For each major vendor, the report examines the performance, features, and architecture of each product, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in a consistent, easy-to-compare fashion. The report concludes with our own comparisons of these products and conclusions about which will fare best.

What's New in This Edition

Updates to the Eighth Edition of "A Guide to Embedded Processors"

"A Guide to Embedded Processors" has been updated to incorporate new announcements made since the previous edition.

  • AMD's G-Series SoCs
  • Freescale's QorIQ T-series and ARM-based LS-series processors.
  • Intel's Haswell-based Xeon, Rangeley, and Gladden processors.
  • Cavium's newest Octeon III processors.
  • Altera's future ARMv8 SoC FPGA processors
  • Broadcom's newest XLP II and StrataGX processors
  • Marvell's additions to the Armada XP family
  • LSI's Axxia AXE3500
  • The new Qualcomm Atheros IPQ communications processors
  • 2012-2013 preliminary market-size and vendor-share data
  • Updated market forecast through 2018

The simplest definition of embedded processor is a microprocessor for systems other than computers. This report focuses on general-purpose processors with one to four CPUs running at 800MHz or greater. Dominant application markets include communications and “PC-like” uses, both of which are broad. At one end of the scale, communications includes low-cost, low-power systems for home networking, such as Wi Fi routers. At the other end, it includes control-plane processors for service-provider routers. PC-like uses also span a wide gamut, including industrial controls, digital signs, casino games, and network-attached storage (NAS).

System designers can spend inordinate amounts of time sorting through the available options to choose the best processors. Therefore, we have researched the offerings from major vendors to gather in one place the information needed to shorten the list. Our conclusions include:

  • Intel is the leading supplier of embedded processors, having a 41% market share. Although most of its embedded revenue comes from selling processors for PC-like systems, the company has made great strides to strengthen its portfolio for communication applications. Its Crystal Forest platform adds features that previously would have required a separate card in an x86-based system. In addition, Intel has improved the power efficiency of its processors across its product lines. New Atom SoCs are much better integrated and for the first time will benefit from Intel’s latest process technology.
  • Freescale is the largest supplier of embedded processors for communications and the second-largest embedded supplier overall. After Intel, Freescale is the target of most smaller competitors. The next few years at the company will be marked by transition to its new QorIQ T-series processors (Power Architecture) and the new QorIQ LS-series processors (ARM). Freescale’s challenge is to manage this multiplatform transition smoothly without losing any customers to competing vendors. The acquisition of Mindspeed’s Comcerto home-gateway chips will widen Freescale’s consumer-market opportunities.
  • Broadcom targets high-performance embedded applications with the ARM-based StrataGX and MIPS-compatible XLP I/II product lines. Its 2012 acquisition of NetLogic moved the company into the top five suppliers of embedded processors. Like Freescale, Broadcom appears to be shifting architectures—in this case, from MIPS to ARM. Although we do not expect processors based on Broadcom’s new ARMv8 CPU core to appear before 2H15, the major effort required to develop a custom 64-bit ARM core reveals a strong future commitment to the architecture.
  • LSI’s Axxia processors can tackle jobs that other processors cannot, owing to their integration of function units derived from the company’s network processors. Unlike Freescale and Intel, which focus on broad embedded applications, LSI focuses more tightly on mobile infrastructure, helping to simplify the task of moving customers to its new ARM-based processors.
  • Cavium’s Octeon chips have a rich set of interfaces and excel at accelerating networking functions. Its product line is less strong in low-cost and low-power processors for consumer networking and in high-performance processors for networking control-plane use. Cavium’s challenge is to overcome delays in shipping Octeon III to avoid losing customers to Broadcom and Freescale.
  • AMD’s Embedded G-Series SoC is an attractive solution for PC-like platforms, and its GPUs deliver industry-leading performance. Opteron, however, is a dated design that requires two system-logic chips and delivers less performance than Intel’s Xeon in a comparable power envelope. AMD is betting its future on newer and more-efficient x86 CPU cores and ARM-based processors. Like Broadcom, it is developing its own custom ARMv8-compatible core that could give it an advantage over competitors using lesser cores.
  • Xilinx was the first FPGA vendor to integrate ARM-based CPU cores with programmable-logic gate arrays. Thus, it is the leading supplier of FPGA-integrated processors for embedded applications. Altera is hot on Xilinx’s heels with similar products and a roadmap that offers several advantages. A foundry deal with Intel for next-generation FinFET technology gives Altera a chance to leapfrog its rival, but the two competitors are famous for matching each other’s chess moves.

The embedded-processor market in 2015 will top $4.0 billion. Although this sum is large enough to sustain many suppliers, it cannot support all the vendors targeting embedded applications. Consequently, in 2014 several vendors have apparently stopped developing future products.

The next few years will mark a turning point from other architectures to ARM. During this transition, system companies must select the right vendor and face the painful process of either redesigning their systems around a different processor or losing market share.

Choosing the best supplier is thus critical. This report analyzes the products, capabilities, and strategies of each vendor to determine which products are best suited to each embedded application and which vendors are most likely to succeed.

*Coverage of embedded processors with four or more CPU cores appears in our report A Guide to Multicore Processors.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1. Processor Technology
Processor Basics
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
MMUs and TLBs
Bus Bandwidth
CPU Microarchitecture
Scalar and Superscalar
Instruction Reordering
Pipelining and Penalties
Branch Prediction
Multicore Processors
Main Memory
DRAM Basics
DDR Versions
Memory Subsystems
I/O and Network Interfaces
Ethernet Interfaces
PCI and PCI Express
2. Embedded Applications
Networking and Communications Equipment
Control Plane vs. Data Plane
Control-Plane Processing
Data-Plane Applications
Services Cards
Networked Storage and RAID Controllers
Broadband Infrastructure
Cellular Base Stations
Consumer Electronics
Set-Top Boxes
Home Networking
IP Phones
IP Cameras
High-Speed Printers
PC-Like Applications
Industrial Control, Medical, and Military
3. Standard Instruction Sets
Architecture Comparison
Market Positions
x86 Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Modern Extensions
ARM Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Later Extensions
ARMv8 Architecture
MIPS Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Later Extensions
PowerPC Instruction Set
Instruction Set
4. High-Speed Processors
What Is a High-Speed Embedded Processor?
What Is Not a High-Speed Embedded Processor
Common Characteristics
Standalone vs. Integrated Processors
Encryption Engines
RAID and Other Storage Engines
Packet-Processing Accelerators
CPU Benchmarks
Security Performance
5. Technology and Market Trends
Technology Trends
Trend to ARM
Integration Trends
CPU Complexity Tradeoffs
Multicore Processors
Memory Access
Market Overview
Market Size by Vendor
Revenue Market Share by Instruction-Set Architecture
Market Forecast
6. AMD
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Opteron 4300 Processors
Embedded R-Series Processors
Embedded G-Series SoC
Internal Architecture
Piledriver CPU Core
Jaguar CPU Core
Embedded R-Series Processors
System Design
Embedded R-Series
Embedded G-Series SoC Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
7. AppliedMicro
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
PacketPro PowerPC Processors
X-Gene Processors
Internal Architecture
System Design
Product Roadmap
8. Broadcom
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
XLP and XLP II Processors
XLP II Family: XLP1xx and XLP2xx
XLP I Family: XLP3xx
XLP I Family: XLP4xx Processors
StrataGX Processors
Internal Architecture
XLP and XLP II Processors
StrataGX Processors
System Design
XLP and XLP II Processors
StrataGX Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9. Cavium
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Octeon II Processors
Octeon III Processors
Internal Architecture
Octeon II Architecture
Octeon III Architecture
System Design
Octeon II and Octeon III
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
10. Freescale
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
QorIQ P-Series Processors
QorIQ P1-Series Processors
QorIQ P2-Series Processors
QorIQ P3- and P5-Series Processors
QorIQ T1- and T2-Series Processors
QorIQ LS-Series Processors
Internal Architecture
Power e5500 CPU
Power e6500 CPU
Security Engines
Quicc Engine
QorIQ Packet-Processing Acceleration
Layerscape Chip Architecture
System Design
System Interfaces
Application Examples
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
11. Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Xeon Processors
Atom Processors
Internal Architecture
Ivy Bridge CPU
Haswell CPU
Atom CPU
Other Processor Technology
System Design
High-Performance Processors
Atom-Based Systems
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
High-Performance Processors
12. LSI (Avago)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
PowerPC Axxia
ARM-Based Axxia AXE4500
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
13. Marvell
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
14. Other Vendors
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Product Roadmap
Mindspeed (Freescale)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Texas Instruments
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
DaVinci Processors
Via Technologies
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
15. Processor Comparisons
Sub-3W Processors for Networking
3–6W Processors for Networking
6–15W Processors for Networking
6–12W Processors With Graphics
15–55W Processors for Networking
25–40W Processors for PC-Like Platforms
Processors Consuming More Than 40W
Processors With Programmable Logic
Lower-Power FPGAs With Processors
Higher-Performance FPGAs With Processors
16. Conclusions
Market and Technology Trends
Consumer Networking
Wireless Infrastructure
Enterprise and Data-Center Networking
Kiosks, Digital Signs, and Casino Games
Technology Trends
Vendor Outlook
Other Processor Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1-1. Basic processor design.
Figure 1-2. Simple superscalar processor design.
Figure 1-3. CPU pipelining examples.
Figure 1-4. Generic multicore processor.
Figure 1-5. Interleaved tasks on a multithreaded CPU.
Figure 1-6. DRAM evolution.
Figure 2-1. The control plane and the data plane.
Figure 4-1. Standalone and integrated general-purpose processors.
Figure 5-1. Revenue share of top eight vendors of embedded microprocessors.
Figure 5-2. Revenue share of embedded processors by instruction set.
Figure 5-3. Revenue of embedded processors by application, 2012–2018.
Figure 6-1. Block diagram of Piledriver CPU microarchitecture.
Figure 6-2. Quad-core compute unit based on Jaguar.
Figure 6-3. Block diagram of Jaguar microarchitecture.
Figure 6-4. Memory connections in AMD R-Series processors.
Figure 6-5. DFI CM901-B board based on AMD R-Series.
Figure 6-6. Block diagram of AMD Embedded G-Series SoC.
Figure 7-1. Block diagram of AppliedMicro X-Gene CPU.
Figure 7-2. Block diagram of AppliedMicro X-Gene processor (SoC).
Figure 7-3. Block diagram of a gateway based on AppliedMicro X-Gene.
Figure 8-1. Broadcom’s XLP and XLP II families.
Figure 8-2. Broadcom’s StrataGX family.
Figure 8-3. Block diagram of Broadcom EC4400 CPU core.
Figure 8-4. Block diagram of Broadcom XLP208 (XLP II family) processor.
Figure 8-5. Block diagram of Broadcom StrataGX BCM58525 processor.
Figure 8-6. Ethernet Node B card based on Broadcom XLP316L.
Figure 9-1. Cavium’s Octeon II (CN6xxx) and Octeon III (CN7xxx) families.
Figure 9-2. Block diagram of Cavium Octeon III CN71xx.
Figure 9-3. Integrated network appliance based on Cavium Octeon III.
Figure 10-1. Freescale’s QorIQ P-series processors for communications.
Figure 10-2. Freescale’s QorIQ T-series processors for communications.
Figure 10-3. Block diagram of Freescale Power e6500 microarchitecture.
Figure 10-4. Block diagram of Freescale QorIQ T2080.
Figure 10-5. Multifunction printer based on Freescale QorIQ LS1021A.
Figure 11-1. Schedule for Intel’s embedded products.
Figure 11-2. Block diagram of the Ivy Bridge and Haswell microarchitectures.
Figure 11-3. Block diagram of Silvermont microarchitecture.
Figure 11-4. Block diagram of Silvermont system architecture.
Figure 11-5. Block diagram of a system based on Intel Crystal Forest.
Figure 11-6. Block diagram of Atom Rangeley platform.
Figure 12-1. Block diagram of LSI AXE4504 architecture.
Figure 12-2. Line-card design based on LSI Axxia AXE2502.
Figure 13-1. Block diagram of Marvell PJ4B CPU core.
Figure 13-2. Block diagram of Marvell Armada XP MV78460.
Figure 13-3. Wi-Fi router using Marvell Armada 385 processor.
Table 2-1. Single-board-computer standards.
Table 5-1. Revenue of the top eight vendors of embedded microprocessors.
Table 5-2. Revenue of embedded processors by application, 2013–2018.
Table 6-1. Key parameters for AMD embedded Opteron 4300 processors.
Table 6-2. Key parameters for selected AMD R-Series processors.
Table 6-3. Key parameters for AMD embedded Opteron and G-Series SoC.
Table 8-1. Key parameters for Broadcom XLP I and XLP II processors.
Table 8-2. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataGX BCM530xx processors.
Table 8-3. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataGX BCM585xx and 586xx.
Table 9-1. Key parameters for low-end and midrange Cavium Octeon II.
Table 9-2. Key parameters for selected Cavium Octeon III processors.
Table 10-1. Key parameters for Freescale QorIQ P1, P2, and P5 series.
Table 10-2. Key parameters for Freescale QorIQ P1011, P1012, P1013, P1020, P1021, and P1022.
Table 10-3. Key parameters for QorIQ P1010, P1014, P1017, and P1023.
Table 10-4. Key parameters for QorIQ P1015, P1016, P1024, and P1025.
Table 10-5. Key parameters for QorIQ P2-series processors.
Table 10-6. Key parameters for QorIQ P5 processors.
Table 10-7. Key parameters for QorIQ T1020, T1022, T1040, and T1042.
Table 10-8. Key parameters for QorIQ T1013, T1023, T1014, and T1024.
Table 10-9. Key parameters for QorIQ T2-series processors.
Table 10-10. Key parameters for Freescale QorIQ LS1-series processors.
Table 11-1. Key parameters for Intel embedded Xeon E3 processors.
Table 11-2. Key parameters for Intel Atom E38xx and C2xxx families.
Table 11-3. Key parameters for Intel 89xx Cave Creek chips.
Table 12-1. Key parameters for LSI Axxia devices.
Table 13-1. Key parameters for Marvell Armada XP processors.
Table 13-2. Key parameters for Marvell Armada 370, 375, 380, and 385.
Table 14-1. Suppliers of embedded processors and their products.
Table 14-2. Key parameters for Altera SoC FPGAs.
Table 14-3. Key parameters for Comcerto 2000-series devices.
Table 14-4. Key parameters for Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8xxx processors.
Table 14-5. Key parameters for Texas Instruments DaVinci DM816x.
Table 14-6. Key parameters for Texas Instruments DaVinci DM814x.
Table 14-7. Key parameters for selected Via embedded x86 processors.
Table 14-8. Key parameters for Xilinx Artix-series Zynq-7000 AP-SoCs.
Table 14-9. Key parameters for Xilinx Kintex-series Zynq-7000 AP-SoCs.
Table 15-1. Comparison of selected sub-3W processors.
Table 15-2. Comparison of selected 3–6W processors.
Table 15-3. Comparison of selected 6–15W processors for networking.
Table 15-4. Comparison of selected 6–12W processors with graphics.
Table 15-5. Comparison of selected 15–55W processors for networking.
Table 15-6. Comparison of AMD R-464L and Intel Core i3-4330TE.
Table 15-7. Comparison of AMD Opteron 4386 and Intel Xeon E3-1275 v2.
Table 15-8. Comparison of low-power processors with programmable logic.
Table 15-9. Comparison of high-end processors with programmable logic.


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