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A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP
Focusing on CPU and GPU

Fourth Edition

Published June 2013

Authors: J. Scott Gardner and Kevin Krewell

Corporate License: $5,995

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Everyone Needs IP

With rising transistor budgets and the trend toward system-on-a-chip design, designing an entire complex ASIC or ASSP in house has become increasingly impractical. As a result, the market for licensed function blocks, known as intellectual property (IP), is growing rapidly. The most popular IP blocks are programmable processors such as CPUs and DSPs. As system designers place more emphasis on differentiation through sophisticated user interfaces, we have seen surging interest in graphics processor units (GPUs) as well.

Several suppliers provide CPU IP, each offering unique advantages. Some CPUs are easily customized, others are superscalar, while still others support multiprocessor implementations. GPUs can accelerate 2D, 3D, and/or vector graphics using fixed or programmable engines. For all types of IP, the available options range widely in performance, die area, and power.

"A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP" sorts through these options, evaluating the high-performance designs available from the leading IP vendors. The report provides in-depth coverage of CPUs and GPUs, including ARM, IBM, Imagination Technologies (MIPS), Synopsys (ARC), Tensilica, and Vivante. Also covered are Adapteva, Aeroflex Gaisler, Andes Technology, Beyond Semiconductor, Cortus, Digital Media Professionals (DMP), and EnSilica.

Make the Right Choice

For each vendor, we describe each IP core offered, provide key metrics such as performance and die area, discuss important topics such as development tools and support, outline the future roadmap, and summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the offering. The report also provides background on how IP is used, an overview of common end markets such as consumer electronics and networking equipment, and market share and forecast data for the types of IP covered. We conclude with a side-by-side comparison of IP cores and our long-term views on the industry.

As the leading vendor of technology analysis for mobile and communications chips, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at this burgeoning market. Analysts Kevin Krewelll and Scott Gardner use their extensive experience in the semiconductor market to deliver the technical and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

Whether you are looking for an innovative solution for your design, a vendor to partner with, or a rising company to invest in, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Get the inside scoop on this major market. Order "A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP" today.

This report is written for:

  • Engineers who need to select IP for the ASICs or standard products (ASSPs) they are designing
  • Marketing and engineering staff at companies that sell IP, design services, or software that runs on processor IP
  • Technology professionals who want an introduction to CPU, GPU, or video technology
  • Financial analysts who desire a detailed analysis and comparison of IP companies and their chances of success
  • Press and public relations professionals who need to get up to speed on IP technology

What's New in this Edition

Updates to the Fourth Edition of "A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP"

"A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP" has been updated to incorporate new announcements made since the publication of the previous edition.

Here are some of the many changes you will find:

  • Added coverage of 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57, Cortex–A53, Cortex-A12, Cortex-M0, Big.Little, Midgard GPUs, and updated ARM roadmap
  • Added coverage of Imagination (MIPS) microAptiv, interAptiv, and ProAptiv CPU IPs.
  • Added coverage of Imagination Technology "Rogue" G6000 series of GPUs
  • Added coverage of Vivante's newest GC series of GPUs
  • Expanded coverage of licensable 32/64-bit CPUs for microcontrollers, embedded devices, servers and PC
  • Removed coverage of DSPs
  • Expanded coverage of GPUs for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets
  • New coverage of CPU IP supplier Andes Technology
  • All new comparisons for CPUs and GPUs
  • 2012 market-size and vendor-share data
  • Updated market forecast through 2017

The IP market is growing rapidly. We estimate that more than 11 billion chips containing CPU cores shipped in 2012. The CPU-IP business increased a commendable 16% in 2012, driven by growth in tablets and micro­controllers. Although strong, this increase fell short of 2011, which saw 25% growth. We expect CPU IP to maintain a 15% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2017 as the mobile market matures and microcontroller growth slows.

The graphics (GPU) IP market is taking off: shipments were less than 90 million units as recently as 2008, but they exceeded 630 million units in 2012, aided by rapid smartphone growth. We expect the GPU-IP business to exhibit a 22% CAGR from 2012 to 2017, reaching 1.7 billion units at the end of the forecast period. Our forecast does not include in-house GPU designs such as Qualcomm's and Nvidia's.

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, and peripheral functions such as Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, touchscreen, and power management. Other important markets for IP include chips for digital TVs, Blu-ray Disc play­ers, tablet computers, and set-top boxes; processors for personal media players; pro­cessors for home-networking gear such as broadband gateways and Wi-Fi routers; storage controllers for hard drives and flash-memory drives; and ASICs for communications infra­structure and enterprise routers.

Because of their growing complexity, most of these systems are con­tinually using more and faster CPUs. Except where performance concerns out­weigh those of power, cost, and size, these CPUs are integrated into a larger-scale 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 ideal for their end application.

The leading supplier of CPU IP is ARM, whose licensees are shipping more than eight billion ARM CPUs per year. Although the company's CPUs serve in nearly every handset, half ship in nonmobile applications. The company's designs include low-end CPUs, such as Cortex-M4, and high-performance superscalar designs, such as Cortex‑R7, Cortex-A7, and Cortex‑A15. ARM entered the GPU market in 2006; its Mali-200 and Mali-400 (MP) products have gained significant design wins and are now the number-two graphics offering behind Imagination's PowerVR line.

Imagination Technologies has been supplying GPU IP since the 1990s, and many top-tier mobile-device makers use the company's GPUs. Its PowerVR SGX line supporting OpenGL ES 2.0 is available in multiple con­figurations, providing various performance levels and optional DirectX compatibility. Although Mali is a clear threat, Imagination has a solid customer list that should be bolstered now that products using the next-generation "Rogue" GPU, which adds OpenGL ES 3.0 support, are finally coming to market. Vivante, a start­up with highly area-efficient GPUs, is also challenging Imagination.

Imagination acquired ARM's long-time CPU rival, MIPS Technologies, in early 2013. Prior to the acquisition, MIPS released a complete refresh of its product line in the microAptiv, interAptiv, and proAptiv family of CPUs. These new cores could help fend off ARM's incursion into traditional MIPS strongholds of digital TVs and disc players.

Taking a different tack, Tensilica provides an innovative customizable processor architecture as well as preconfigured designs. Its flexible architecture enables it to compete for designs requiring a CPU, high-performance DSP, audio pro­cessor, video engine, or baseband-processing DSP. In 2013, Tensilica was a gobbled up by a larger company—the EDA vendor Cadence. Cadence will continue supplying Tensilica IP.

After acquiring the ARC CPU architecture from Virage Logic, Synopsys expanded its DesignWare library to include con­figurable ARC cores and complete subsystems, such as SoundWave for audio. With considerable success in flash controllers, ARC appeared in 1.3 billion chips in 2012, ranking second in CPU-IP units.

IBM offers CPU cores outside of its own ASIC busi­ness, making its popu­lar PowerPC architecture more accessible to chip designers. Its licensable cores are aging, however, and IBM shows no interest in refreshing them. The company has lost the new generation of game consoles, and net­working customers such as AppliedMicro and LSI are switching from IBM cores to ARM.

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 small die size and low licensing fees. Between them, these vendors saw 2012 shipments of nearly 700 million chips using their IP.

Each designer has a different emphasis on design parameters for the IP it uses, such as interfaces, available 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, with a focus on high-performance CPU and GPU cores.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1 Semiconductor-IP Overview
What Is IP?
Delivering and Instantiating IP
Soft Cores Versus Hard Cores
Process Technology and Libraries
Applications of IP
Cellular Handsets
Other Mobile Applications
Consumer Applications
Networking and Storage Applications
Microcontrollers, Smartcards, and Other Applications
2 IP Technology
IP Standards
Accellera and IP-XACT
Verilog and VHDL RTL/HDL Standards
Synthesis and Place and Route
Amba and OCP
Multimedia Standards
Video Resolution and Frame Rates
Advanced Audio Standards
Graphics Standards
2D Graphics
3D Graphics
3D-Graphics Pipeline
3D-Shader Architecture
Graphics Performance
Cellular Technologies
2G Technologies
3G Technologies
4G TechnologiesOFDM
4G TechnologiesLTE
3 IP Implementations
What Is a CPU?
What Is Not a CPU
What Is a GPU?
What Is Not a GPU
Processor Microarchitecture
Data Types
Instruction Issue
Pipelining and Penalties
Caches and Tightly Coupled Memory (TCM)
Multicore and SMP
CPU Design
MMUs and TLBs
GPU Design
Unified Shaders
Tile-Based Deferred Rendering
Preliminary Z Testing
Typical GPU Architecture
CPU Benchmarks
Graphics Benchmarks
4 Market Size and Trends
Market Size and Share
IP Application Markets
IP Shipments by Application Category
Application-Market Trends
Processor-IP Forecast
IP Trends
Company Background
ARM Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Cortex-A CPUs
Cortex-R CPUs
Mali GPUs
Design Details
Cortex-A15 CPU
Cortex-A57 CPU
Cortex-A7 CPU
Cortex‑A53 CPU
Cortex‑A5, Cortex-R5, and Cortex‑R4 CPUs
CPU System Interfaces
Mali Graphics Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
6 Cadence (Tensilica)
Company Background
Tensilica Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
Company Background
PowerPC Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
8 Imagination (MIPS)
Company Background
MIPS Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
PowerVR GPUs
PowerVR Series6
Design Details
MicroAptiv CPU
InterAptiv CPU
ProAptiv CPU
Meta CPU
PowerVR Series5/Series5XT (SGX) GPU
PowerVR Series6 GPU (Rogue)
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9 Synopsys (ARC)
Company Background
ARC Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
10 Vivante
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
11 Other IP Suppliers
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Aeroflex Gaisler
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Beyond Semiconductor
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Digital Media Professionals (DMP)
12 Comparing Processor IP
CPU Cores
Low-End (Deeply Embedded) CPUs
High-End Embedded CPUs
Midrange Application CPUs
High-Performance Application CPUs
GPU Cores
Low-Cost GPUs
Midrange GPUs
High-End GPUs
13 Conclusions
Market and Technology Directions
System Trends
CPU-IP Trends
GPU-IP Trends
Vendor Outlook
Cadence (Tensilica)
Other Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1‑1. Block diagram of a generic basic phone.
Figure 1‑2. Block diagram of a generic application processor.
Figure 1‑3. Block diagram of a generic mobile Wi-Fi chip.
Figure 1‑4. Block diagram of a generic digital-TV chip.
Figure 1‑5. Block diagram of a generic 802.11 access point.
Figure 1‑6. Block diagram of a generic high-end hard-drive controller.
Figure 1‑7. Block diagram of a processor with vector-graphics acceleration.
Figure 2‑1. Logic circuit that implements simple Verilog code.
Figure 2‑2. GDS II file being edited in Magic.
Figure 2‑3. Worst-case scenario for Blu-ray Disc audio.
Figure 2‑4. Raster graphics versus vector graphics.
Figure 2‑5. Apples Cover Flow effect.
Figure 2‑6. Standard hard-wired 3D pipeline.
Figure 2‑7. Standard programmable 3D pipeline.
Figure 2‑8. OFDM demodulation pipeline.
Figure 3‑1. CPU pipelining examples.
Figure 3‑2. Generic multicore processor.
Figure 3‑3. Interleaved tasks on a multithreaded processor.
Figure 3‑4. Block diagram of a generic CPU.
Figure 3‑5. Basic design of a shader-based 3D GPU.
Figure 4‑1. Unit market share for 32/64-bit CPU IP, 201112.
Figure 4‑2. Unit market share for GPU IP, 201112.
Figure 4‑3. Shipments of CPU IP by application category, 2012.
Figure 4‑4. GPU-IP shipments by application category, 2012.
Figure 4‑5. Mobile-device forecast, 20102017.
Figure 4‑6. Digital-home device forecast, 20102017.
Figure 4‑7. Enterprise-device forecast, 20102017.
Figure 4‑8. Embedded-device forecast, 20102017.
Figure 4‑9. Forecast of CPU IP by application category, 20102017.
Figure 4‑10. Forecast of GPU IP by application category, 20102017.
Figure 5‑1. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A15 CPU.
Figure 5‑2. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A57 CPU.
Figure 5‑3. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A7 CPU.
Figure 5‑4. Pipeline diagram of ARM Cortex-A53 CPU.
Figure 5‑5. Block diagram of ARM Big.Little system architecture.
Figure 5‑6. Block diagram of ARM Mali-400 MP GPU.
Figure 5‑7. Block diagram of ARM Mali-604/658 GPU.
Figure 6‑1. Architecture diagram of Tensilica Xtensa CPU.
Figure 6‑2. Block diagram of a packet classifier based on Xtensa.
Figure 7‑1. Block diagram of IBM PowerPC 460S CPU.
Figure 7‑2. Block diagram of IBM PowerPC 470S CPU.
Figure 8‑1. History of the MIPS ISA.
Figure 8‑2. Block diagram of MIPS interAptiv.
Figure 8‑3. Block diagram of MIPS proAptiv.
Figure 8‑4. Microarchitecture of Imagination Meta CPU.
Figure 8‑5. Block diagram of Imagination Technologies SGX GPU.
Figure 8‑6. Block diagram of Imagination Series6 (Rogue) G6630 GPU.
Figure 9‑1. Block diagram of Synopsys ARC 770D with extensions.
Figure 10‑1. Block diagram of Vivante graphics processor.
Figure 11‑1. Block diagram of Adapteva Epiphany CPU.
Figure 11‑2. Summary of DMP Smaph-S GPU cores.
Table 2‑1. Standard screen sizes.
Table 2‑2. Summary of 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular technologies and data rates.
Table 2‑3. Common LTE data rates.
Table 5‑1. Key parameters for ARM Cortex A-series cores.
Table 5‑2. Key parameters for ARM Cortex R and M cores.
Table 5‑3. Key parameters for ARM Mali graphics processors.
Table 6‑1. Key parameters for Tensilica 570T CPU.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for IBM PowerPC 405S and 460S CPU cores.
Table 7‑2. Key parameters for IBM PowerPC 476FP CPU.
Table 8‑1. Comparison of Imaginations MIPS CPU cores.
Table 8‑2. Imagination PowerVR SGX versions.
Table 8‑3. Key parameters for Imagination SGX graphics processors.
Table 8‑4. Key parameters for Imagination Rogue graphics processors.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for selected Synopsys ARC cores.
Table 10‑1. Key parameters for production Vivante graphics processors.
Table 10‑2. Key parameters for future Vivante graphics processors.
Table 11-1. Key parameters for Adapteva Epiphany cores.
Table 11‑2. Key parameters for Aeroflex Gaisler Leon3 and Leon4.
Table 11‑3. Key parameters for Andes CPU cores.
Table 11‑4. Key parameters for Cortus CPU cores.
Table 11‑5. Key parameters for Beyond Semiconductor CPU cores.
Table 12‑1. Comparison of low-end embedded CPU cores.
Table 12‑2. Comparison of high-end embedded CPU cores.
Table 12‑3. Comparison of midrange CPU cores.
Table 12‑4. Comparison of superscalar CPU cores.
Table 12‑5. Comparison of low-cost GPU cores.
Table 12‑6. Comparison of midrange GPU cores.
Table 12‑7. Comparison of high-end GPU cores.

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