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Year in Review: Embedded Chips Soar to 100GbE

January 2, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

In 2017, embedded processors attained new heights: 100 Gigabit Ethernet (100GbE) is becoming the new networking standard, and one ARMv8-compatible chip has 24 CPU cores. Another ARM-based processor pushed clock speeds to 3.0GHz, while 4K UltraHD is becoming the must-have feature in the latest media processors.

To keep up, PCI Express Gen4 and DDR4 DRAM interfaces are appearing in some new chips. In media processors, 4K-resolution video, high dynamic range (HDR), and new content-protection schemes are becoming standard. The ARM architecture continues to steamroll through the industry, dominating almost all new designs. The usual exception is Intel, whose new Skylake-SP embedded processors raise the performance bar.

FPGAs made headlines in 2017, too. They’re winning more sockets in emerging markets, such as autonomous vehicles and machine learning. Intel (which acquired Altera in 2015) began shipping the first FPGAs to integrate High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2), and Xilinx began sampling a new class of mixed-signal devices. In December, yet another FPGA startup rose to challenge the established players. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2017 was that 2016 and 2015 still won’t die. Sure, the calendar says they’re expired, but industry consolidation marches on. We had expected the pace of acquisitions to slow after the merger mania of the previous two years, if only because fewer companies were left to acquire. Instead, the surging costs of designing and manufacturing high-performance processors are forcing vendors to expand their resources faster than organic growth permits. Acquisitions enable companies to expand by leaps and bounds—and when the competition does it, everyone else has to keep up.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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