The processor-IP market continues to grow as more SoC designers adopt licensed cores for CPUs, GPUs, and NoCs. More than 22 billion chips containing CPU IP shipped during 2016. Despite slowing growth for smartphones and tablets, CPU-IP shipments increased by 10% in 2016, compared with a 23% surge the prior year. Even though the mobile market is maturing, we expect emerging applications such as automotive ADAS and the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive an 11% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2020.
In 2016, shipments of licensed GPUs improved by 19% owing to a loss of mobile-market share by companies such as Intel and Qualcomm, which use in-house designs. Mobile shipments employing licensed GPUs rose several percent, and customers upgrading to larger smart TVs with graphical user interfaces created a brisk market.
Cellular handsets continue to be the highest-volume market for CPU and GPU IP. A single handset may have separate CPUs for the cellular baseband, application subsystem, sensor hub, and peripheral functions such as Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, touchscreen, and power management. Other large markets include chips for consumer electronics such as digital TVs, media players, and set-top boxes; processors for home networking gear such as broadband gateways and Wi-Fi routers; storage controllers for hard drives and flash-memory drives; and processors for communications infrastructure and data-center servers.
Because of their growing complexity, most of these systems use ever more and faster CPUs. Process-technology advances enable companies to integrate large numbers of CPU cores on a single chip. Chip designers face a make-versus-buy decision for CPUs; most choose to buy (license) an IP core and focus their efforts on combining IP blocks, peripherals, and custom logic into a design that’s ideal for their end application.
This report also covers licensable network-on-a-chip (NoC) IP. NoCs address the problem of increasing complexity in modern SoCs, providing an automated method of linking all the cores together. Unlike CPU and GPU cores, implementing a NoC requires customization for the unique architecture of each SoC and thus demands a robust and highly automated tool set. Compared with designing interconnects by hand, this approach helps optimize power and ensures timing closure.
ARM is by far the leading CPU-IP supplier, having a 77% share in 2016. The company added several new CPU cores during that year, including the low-cost Cortex-M23/M33, the resilient Cortex-R52, and the high-performance Cortex-A73. Synopsys enhanced its CPU lineup with the new ARC SEM series, which offers enhanced security features. In 2016, the company also added a new deep-learning computer-vision subsystem to its DesignWare catalog.
In 2016, Imagination Technologies released only one new CPU core — the MIPS I6500. That midrange design offers an alternative to ARM’s “little” cores, but it’s less area and power efficient. It remains popular with customers such as Mobileye, however, owing to its unique hardware multithreading capability. Cadence’s customizable Xtensa CPU shipments rose by 31% in 2016. Rather than offer new preconfigured designs, the company emphasizes frequent updates to its base LX architecture, in addition to offering application-specific subsystems.
A number of smaller CPU-IP vendors — such as Andes, Beyond Semiconductor, and Cortus — offer alternatives to customers for whom compatibility with a more well-known instruction set is less important than customizable features, small die size, and low licensing fees. These cores mostly target low-cost deeply embedded devices. A new competitor has emerged in RISC-V, a royalty-free instruction set with open-source CPU cores.
Among GPU-IP products, ARM’s Mali family extended its popularity from low-cost to premium smartphones, leading in unit shipments. The market share of Imagination’s PowerVR declined to less than 30% as its Series7 cores fell behind Mali in performance per unit area and its high-end Series8 design was delayed. VeriSilicon completed its acquisition of Vivante, which provides GPUs for consumer electronics as well as for high-reliability applications such as aerospace and military.
Sonics is the largest independent developer of NoC IP, offering the broadest range of NoCs, including subsidiary products for memory control and power management. Arteris complements its basic NoC features with a timing-closure tool and support for fault-tolerant networks. In 2016, it added a cache-coherent interconnect to its product line. NetSpeed emphasizes support for cache-coherent processors with its NoCs, and it delivers the industry’s most highly automated implementation tools. ARM added a new mesh network to its CoreLink portfolio. The company’s connectivity IP is widely used for clusters of CPUs, but it lacks a comprehensive and automated solution to match the offerings from the smaller independent NoC vendors.
Different designers emphasize different parameters for the IP they use, such as interfaces, I/O bandwidth, power consumption, die area, performance, instruction-set compatibility, and roadmap. Therefore, selecting the right IP is a complex and difficult task. This report details each vendor’s products, strategy, and market position, covering CPU, GPU, and NoC IP.