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TI builds 1GHz DSP in 90nm process

Posted: 26 Jan 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:texas instruments? ti? dsp? tms320c6414? c6415?

Setting marks in DSP speed and process geometry, Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) is sampling a 1GHz device built in a 90nm process.

The device, which can execute 8 billion instructions in a second, the company said, is expected to cut costs and boost performance in video, wireless infrastructure, broadband networking and medical diagnostics applications.

Moreover, TI said, the move to a finer process node will lower the price tag on its 720MHz DSPs by better than half, from more than $250 each to $115. TI will apply the 90nm process across all three of its high-end DSP lines, specifically the TMS320C6414, 'C6415 and 'C6416.

Tom Starnes, a research VP at Gartner Inc., said of the latest DSP, the TMS320C64x, "It's not a new architecture and it's not a new way of doing things-they just cranked things up. But it certainly is great for those who need higher performance."

Starnes said he was impressed by TI's technological prowess. "Who else could've done this?" he asked. "It's not as though you can go to TSMC and kick out a 1GHz DSP. Not a lot of companies can pull together what it takes to do this."

Indeed, TI executives in Houston were beaming. "The big thing is that we've been able to build a device that we can drive to volume production at 1GHz," said Ray Simar, who manages advanced DSP architecture development. "The other key part is that it's at 90nm, which enables 1GHz, but also allows us to cut our prices by half on our 720MHz devices, with prices falling to $9 for 200MHz versions."

While RISC-based processors like Intel's Pentium passed the 1GHz mark long ago, Simar said, the divergent application requirements for DSPs have made the 1GHz speed more difficult to achieve.

"We worry about power. At 1GHz we're going to be below 2W, vs. tens of watts for Pentiums," he said. "Also, the thing for us is not so much that it's 1GHz, but that apps will run 40 percent faster." The translation from clock rate to higher application performance isn't altogether linear with RISC processors, he said. "It's a matter of scaling clock rate accordingly with the ability to take full advantage of that speed."

Getting there

TI's road to 1GHz started in 2000, with the move from the C62x to C64x architecture. At that time, designers reallocated some pipeline stages and worked on multicycle paths to memory. They also optimized some pipeline-critical operations and introduced conditional instructions to reduce the branch penalty. "A lot of those things are what's allowing us to drive to 1GHz," said Simar.

Along with the higher clock rate, Simar emphasized TI's ability to reduce die size with the new process, as well as the ability to ease system-on-chip integration. The processors come with up to 1MB of SRAM. The part's nearest competitor, the 600MHz TigerSharc from Analog Devices Inc., has up to 3MB of low-leakage SRAM, courtesy of a foundry partnership with IBM Microelectronics.

"We could integrate more memory," Simar said of the 1GHz chip, "but where do you draw the line? We're more focused on enhancing the DDR [double-data-rate memory] interface so we have bulk memory off-chip, for an imaging problem with 64MB for buffering."

The 1GHz device has been evaluated by Berkeley Design Technology Inc., an independent analysis firm and received a BDTIMark2000 of 9,130. TI's 720MHz DSP achieved a BDTIMark2000 of 6,570-the previous high among mainstream DSPs.

The 1GHz 'C6414, '6415 and '6416 DSPs are sampling today and are differentiated by their various integrated peripherals. Pricing starts at $189 for the 1GHz 'C6414 in 10,000-unit production quantities, which will be available in the fourth quarter.

- Patrick Mannion

EE Times

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