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A Guide to CPU Cores and Processor IP
Focusing on CPU, GPU, and Vision Processing

Fifth Edition

Published December 2014

Authors: Mike Demler and Loyd Case

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 GPUs. As system designers place more emphasis on differentiation through sophisticated user interfaces, we have seen surging interest in vision-processing IP 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. Vision-processing IP supports automotive, smartphone, and tablet processors. 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 those from ARM, Cadence (Tensilica), Imagination (MIPS), Synopsys (ARC), and Vivante. Also covered are Adapteva, Aeroflex Gaisler, Andes, Beyond Semiconductor, Ceva, Cognivue, Cortus, and Videantis.

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 Mike Demler and Loyd Case 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 vision processing
  • 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 Fifth 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 ARM Cortex-A17, Cortex-M7, and updated ARM roadmap
  • Added coverage of Mali T800 family of GPUs
  • Added coverage of Imagination (MIPS) "Warrior" CPU IP, including the 64-bit I6400
  • Added coverage of Imagination Technology’s Series7 GPUs
  • Added coverage of Synopsys ARC HS38 CPU core
  • Added coverage of Vivante’s new GC7000 series of GPUs
  • Added coverage of Beyond Semiconductor’s new BA21 core
  • Added coverage of Cortus APS23 and APS25 CPU cores
  • New coverage of vision IP suppliers Ceva, Cognivue, and Videantis
  • All new comparisons for CPUs and GPUs
  • 2013 and preliminary 2014 market-size and vendor-share data
  • Updated market forecast through 2018

The IP market is growing rapidly. We estimate more than 15 billion chips containing CPU cores shipped in 2014. The CPU-IP business increased 11%, driven by growth in smartphones and microcontrollers. This rise fell short of 2013, which saw 19% growth, because of a slowdown in the mobile market. We expect CPU IP to maintain an 11% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2018 as the mobile market continues to mature and microcontroller growth slows.

The mobile slowdown also affected GPUs. After growing 56% in 2013, the number of chips using GPU IP rose 21% in 2014, reaching 1.2 billion units. These numbers exclude chips using in-house GPU designs such as Qualcomm’s and Nvidia’s. The growth rate for GPU-IP shipments exceeds that of CPU IP owing to the replacement of feature phones (which lack GPUs) with low-cost smartphones.

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 IP markets include chips for digital TVs, Blu-ray 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 use ever 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.

This report covers a new IP market: vision processing. In a push to make self-driving cars, automakers are demanding chips that can “see” the road and identify lane markers, road signs, pedestrians, and vehicles. Google and others are designing mobile devices that can create 3D maps of their surroundings and overlay images to augment reality. Optimized VPU IP can outperform standard CPUs and GPUs for these applications.

The leading CPU IP supplier is ARM, whose licensees shipped more than 11 billion ARM chips in 2014. Although its CPU cores serve in nearly every handset, more than half ship in nonmobile applications. The company’s designs range from low-end CPUs such as Cortex-M4 to high-performance superscalar designs such as the 64-bit Cortex-A57. ARM’s Mali IP recently became the best-selling GPU; it is particularly popular in low-cost smartphones.

Imagination Technologies has been supplying GPU IP since the 1990s, and it remains the leader in high-performance graphics units. Its Series6 GPU delivers industry-leading performance in Apple’s iPad Air 2, and Imagination promises another big performance boost in its upcoming Series7 lineup. Vivante, a startup with highly area-efficient GPUs, is also challenging ARM and is gaining ground in digital TVs.

After acquiring MIPS in 2013, Imagination completely refreshed its CPU lineup under the “Warrior” program. The I6400 is a 64-bit CPU with unique multithreading capability, whereas the P5600 competes against Cortex-A17 for 32-bit embedded designs.

Synopsys has expanded its DesignWare library to include configurable ARC cores and complete subsystems, such as SoundWave for audio. Including its considerable success in flash controllers, ARC appeared in 1.7 billion chips in 2014, ranking second in CPU-IP units. The company also updated its product line with the new HS38 CPU, which matches up against Cortex-A7.

Taking a different tack, Cadence provides an innovative customizable processor architecture called Xtensa, as well as preconfigured designs. The former Tensilica architecture enables it to compete for designs requiring a CPU, high-performance DSP, audio processor, video engine, or baseband-processing DSP.

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 2014 shipments of more than 600 million chips using their IP. IBM, however, transferred its semiconductor business to GlobalFoundries, which is unlikely to continue licensing its PowerPC IP.

Cognivue and Videantis offer VPU IP. These small companies use highly specialized architectures to process images. They have also developed software libraries for common vision-processing algorithms and provide tools that allow customers to program the VPU cores to implement their own proprietary algorithms. Ceva has created vision-processing libraries for its popular DSP architecture, which can serve as a VPU.

Different designers emphasize different parameters for the IP they use, 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, GPU, and VPU 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
Audio Codecs
Video Codecs
Digital-Rights Management
Graphics Standards
2D Graphics
3D Graphics
3D-Graphics Pipeline
3D-Shader Architecture
Graphics Performance
Cellular Technologies
2G Technologies
3G Technologies
3.5G Technologies
4G Technologies
3 IP Implementations
What Is a CPU?
What Is Not a CPU
What Is a GPU?
What Is Not a GPU
What Is a Vision Processor?
What Is Not a Vision Processor
Processor Microarchitecture
Data Types
Instruction Issue
Pipelining and Penalties
Caches and Tightly Coupled Memory (TCM)
Multicore and SMP
CPU Design
MMUs and TLBs
Hardware Virtualization
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
CPU-IP Forecast
GPU-IP Forecast
IP Trends
Company Background
ARM Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Cortex-A CPUs
Cortex-R CPUs
Cortex-M CPUs
Mali GPUs
Design Details
Cortex-R CPUs
Cortex-M CPUs
Mali Graphics Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
6 Cadence (Tensilica)
Company Background
Xtensa Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
7 Imagination (MIPS)
Company Background
MIPS Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Warrior CPUs
PowerVR GPUs
Design Details
M-Class CPU
P-Class CPU
I-Class CPU
PowerVR Series6 GPU (Rogue)
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
8 Synopsys (ARC)
Company Background
ARC Instruction Set
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9 Vivante
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
10 Other IP Suppliers
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Aeroflex Gaisler
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Beyond Semiconductor
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
11 Comparing Processor IP
CPU Cores
Midrange Embedded CPUs
High-End Embedded CPUs
Low-End Embedded CPUs
High-Performance Application CPUs
GPU Cores
Low-Cost GPUs
Midrange GPUs
High-End GPUs
VPU Cores
12 Conclusions
Market and Technology Directions
System Trends
CPU-IP Trends
GPU-IP Trends
VPU-IP Trends
Vendor Outlook
Other Vendors
Closing Thoughts
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 2‑1. Logic circuit that implements simple Verilog code.
Figure 2‑2. GDS II file being edited in Magic.
Figure 2‑3. Raster graphics versus vector graphics.
Figure 2‑4. Apple’s Cover Flow effect.
Figure 2‑5. Standard hard-wired 3D pipeline.
Figure 2‑6. Standard programmable 3D 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, 2013–2014.
Figure 4‑2. Unit market share for GPU IP, 2013–2014.
Figure 4‑3. Shipments of CPU IP by application category, 2014.
Figure 4‑4. GPU-IP shipments by application category, 2014.
Figure 4‑5. Mobile-device forecast, 2012–2018.
Figure 4‑6. Embedded-device and flash-memory forecast, 2012–2018.
Figure 4‑7. Consumer-electronics device forecast, 2012–2018.
Figure 4‑8. Enterprise-device forecast, 2012–2018.
Figure 4‑9. Forecast of CPU IP by application category, 2012–2018.
Figure 4‑10. Forecast of GPU IP by application category, 2012–2018.
Figure 5‑1. Block diagram of ARM Big.Little system architecture.
Figure 5‑2. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A15 CPU.
Figure 5‑3. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A17 CPU.
Figure 5‑4. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A7 CPU.
Figure 5‑5. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-A57 CPU.
Figure 5‑6. Pipeline diagram of ARM Cortex-A53 CPU.
Figure 5‑7. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-R7 CPU.
Figure 5‑8. Block diagram of ARM Cortex-M7 CPU.
Figure 5‑9. Block diagram of ARM Mali-T604/658 GPU.
Figure 5‑10. Block diagram of ARM Mali-T760 GPU.
Figure 6‑1. Block diagram of Xtensa CPU microarchitecture.
Figure 7‑1. History of the MIPS ISA.
Figure 7‑2. Relative performance of Series6 and Series7 GPUs.
Figure 7‑3. Block diagram of MIPS P-class.
Figure 7‑4. Block diagram of MIPS I6400.
Figure 7‑5. Block diagram of Imagination Series6 (Rogue) G6630 GPU.
Figure 8‑1. Block diagram of Synopsys ARC HS38 CPU with extensions.
Figure 9‑1. Block diagram of GC7000 architecture.
Figure 10‑1. Block diagram of Adapteva Epiphany CPU.
Table 2‑1. Standard screen sizes.
Table 2‑2. Cellular technologies and data rates.
Table 4‑1. Unit market share for 32/64-bit CPU IP, 2013–2014.
Table 4‑2. Unit market share for 32/64-bit GPU IP, 2013–2014.
Table 5‑1. Key parameters for ARM Cortex-A cores.
Table 5‑2. Key parameters for ARM Cortex-R and Cortex-M cores.
Table 5‑3. Key parameters for ARM Mali-400 and T600 GPUs.
Table 5‑4. Key parameters for ARM Mali-T700 and -T800.
Table 6‑1. Key parameters for Xtensa reference CPUs.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for Imagination MIPS Warrior CPU cores.
Table 7‑2. Key parameters for Imagination Series6 graphics processors.
Table 7‑3. Key parameters for Imagination Series7 graphics processors.
Table 8‑1. Key parameters for selected Synopsys ARC cores.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for Vivante GC7000 graphics processors.
Table 9‑2. Key parameters for Vivante GC7000 Lite graphics processors.
Table 10‑1. Key parameters for Adapteva Epiphany cores.
Table 10‑2. Key parameters for Aeroflex Gaisler Leon3 and Leon4.
Table 10‑3. Key parameters for Andes CPU cores.
Table 10‑4. Key parameters for Beyond CPU cores.
Table 10‑5. Key parameters for Ceva-MM3101 VPU.
Table 10‑6. Key parameters for selected Cognivue VPUs.
Table 10‑7. Key parameters for first-generation Cortus CPU cores.
Table 10‑8. Key parameters for Cortus APS23 and APS25.
Table 10‑9. Key parameters for Videantis VPU IP.
Table 11-1. Comparison of midrange embedded CPU cores.
Table 11‑2. Comparison of high-end embedded CPU cores.
Table 11‑3. Comparison of low-end CPU cores.
Table 11‑4. Comparison of high-performance CPU cores.
Table 11‑5. Comparison of low-cost GPU cores.
Table 11‑6. Comparison of midrange GPU cores.
Table 11‑7. Comparison of high-end GPU cores.
Table 11‑8. Comparison of vision-processing IP.

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