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ARC platform eyes low-cost multimedia

Posted: 01 Dec 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARC International? SoC?

Looking to cater to its growing business in Taiwan and China, ARC International has released a tighter implementation of its multimedia subsystems specifically aimed at SoC running low-cost audio and video players.

The ARC Player is the latest addition to the company's line of programmable multimedia subsystems. It brings 32bit processing to low-end, high-volume markets for portable consumer electronics, where some system designers are finding that 8bit and 16bit MCUs or hardwired blocks may not be suitable for new product lines, but are wary of the added cost to migrate to 32bits. The "extreme price sensitivity" of such markets has kept manufacturers from exploiting new opportunities, said Jason Blackwell, co-founder and CEO of S2 Data Corp.

Needed flexibility
As system designers in China experiment with portable media players, programmable systems will offer the flexibility needed until they hit upon a surefire high-volume design. ARC Player measures up well in this regard. Based on the 32bit ARC600 microprocessor, it includes an MPEG-4 video decoder, MP3 decoder and multistandard audio codecs (optional audio decoders include WMA, AAC and Dolby Digital Consumer), as well as A/V synchronization and a voice recorder.

Drilling a little deeper, the family packs 100,000 gates, with 8Kbytes each of I and D cache. In a 0.18?m process, it consumes 3.5mm2 of space. For an MP3 player implementation, the system hits a peak of 30MHz at about 36mW. For an A/V media player, it jumps to about 125MHz at 150mW. Maximum frequency is 160MHz, leaving some headroom for programming additional features.

Although ARC believes some of its big U.S. clients such as SanDisk will be interested in the platform, it's betting on strong interest from its growing ranks of Asian customers. ARC boosted royalties by 32 percent and bookings by 31 percent in the first half compared with the same period last year. Sales to companies in Asia represented close to 30 percent of revenue for the first half, a record high, up from less than five percent in the first half of 2005.

To spur activity among China companies, ARC is offering a deal to design houses that work with Shanghai-based foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC), said Dan Davis, a product-marketing manager at ARC. Design houses need not pay upfront licensing fees. Instead, they will pay royalties after production starts.

MP3 player peak frequency is 30MHz at 36mW. For A/V media player, those figures hit 125MHz at 150mW.

Synthesizable cores are available now, and ARC will offer a hard core based on SMIC's 0.18?m process in mid-2007. The software and hardware development tools include ARC's MetaWare suite, which includes a C/C++ compiler and assembler, debugger and user interface based on the Eclipse integrated development environment. MetaWare supports the GNU tool chain, available through a third party like Codito Technologies. "It brings all the tools of the 32bit RISC into this marketplace," Davis said.

ARC believes the tightly coupled nature of the system will make it easy for SoC designers to add simple peripherals and get products out the door. "The barrier to entry is minimal," Davis said, but "we don't want to get killed with support." Thus, if designers who go through SMIC to avoid the upfront costs need support, they will have to buy ARC's Player Implementation Package. That will gain them access to the hardware development system, reference source code, product updates and fixes for 12 months, along with 40hrs of tech support and one seat at an ARC training course.

ARC declined to disclose its pricing on ARC Player and the implementation package, but did say the latter only covers its cost.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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