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Media processor aims at scientific apps

Posted: 16 Feb 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multithread processor? cpu? floating-point? embedded processor? vliw?

Media processors have struggled to gain wide acceptance, but their allure still proves too hard for some chipmakers to resist. Clearspeed Technology Inc., for one, has taped out its first CS301 processor, which can be described as a collection of floating-point engines that deliver 25Gflops performance. The chip, which can also act as a co-processor to an X86 CPU or a standalone embedded processor, is being offered in sample quantities for $975.

The CS301 is made up of 64 identical very long instruction word (VLIW)-like processors, each equipped with its own dual floating-point unit, integer multiply-accumulators, address generators, register files and SRAM. In addition, it comes with a multithreaded controller so that data can overlap or move into buffer memory, making the most out of every clock cycle, said David Hoff, director of technical marketing for Clearspeed.

This combination of a parallel computing architecture plus access to up to 1GB of external double-data-rate DRAM makes the CS301 more than a fast floating-point engine. "It can do 12.3 billion integer multiply-and-accumulate operations and another 25.6 billion add-and-shift operations, and also 25.6 billion I/O operations-all in the same second and in parallel," Hoff said.

Moreover, the 0.13?m device dissipates just 2W. "We only need 200MHz when running at full speed. At 200MHz, it's normally below 2W, but worst case is 2.5W," Hoff said.

Though Clearspeed has carefully avoided using the term media processor, its architecture blends processing styles - including single instruction, multiple data; VLIW and RISC - in a way that reveals its true colors.

The company's effort to distance its chip from the traditional media processor is understandable: Many of the first devices were market failures because they were notoriously hard to program - a stigma that Clearspeed said it has worked hard to disprove.

"One could look at this as an easily programmable parallel processor, something that was a problem for early SIMD processors," said president Mike Calise.

The company also said it's being realistic about target applications. Though the CS301 can work as a graphics processor, Clearspeed has no plans to challenge entrenched players, like Nvidia, in consumer. Clearspeed officials can also get fidgety when asked to compare their floating-point performance to a typical Pentium machine (which has about half the performance of the CS301), and are quick to note the devices serve different purposes.

Rather, Clearspeed has opted to appeal first to the scientific community. The company said that it has modified an application developed by Bristol University in the United Kingdom to accelerate drug-blocking simulations.

- Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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