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PA Semi offers 25W PowerPC

Posted: 02 Apr 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PowerPC architecture? processor? Dual-core Power?

Startup PA Semi is shipping chip samples that demonstrate its claim of taking the PowerPC architecture's power consumption to new lows for a range of embedded markets. The company has lined up four single-board computer makers that will ship products based on the 2GHz dual-core device, which consumes 25W maximum and 15W on average.

"Today, we can demonstrate and deliver the frequency and power consumption levels we promised. There was some skepticism about that," said Dan Dobberpuhl, CEO of PA Semi.

The milestone marks a hat trick for Dobberpuhl, who led design teams that cut power consumption for the ARM and MIPS processor architectures. At Digital Equipment Corp., Dobberpuhl helped design the StrongARM chip, which eventually became Intel's Xscale processor. He also launched startup SiByte, later acquired by Broadcom, to create a low-power MIPS processor.

The PA6T-1682M from PA Semi sports two 64bit cores designed from scratch and compliant with the Power architecture specification, including the VMX multimedia instruction extensions. At 2GHz, the chip delivers 8,800 Dhrystone MIPS, the rough equivalent of an IBM PowerPC 970 that consumes up to 60W, according to PA Semi.

Single-board computers using the chip are expected to deliver the same performance as existing PowerPC-based cards, but to consume as little as 34W, about 30 percent less power than existing PowerPC boards.

"Most other systems require 41W just for the CPU," said Bret Farnum, VP of sales at board maker Extreme Engineering Solutions, which plans to use the chip.

The PA6T-1682M has 2Mbytes of L2 cache and two DDR2 memory controllers that support data rates of up to 1,066MHz. For I/O, the chip uses a bank of 24 lanes of 2.5- to 3.125GHz Serdes. The Serdes can be configured at boot time to deliver two 10GbE, four Gigabit Ethernet or eight PCIe links. The chip also sports hardware-assist engines for TCP/IP acceleration, security, checksum and XOR computation.

PA Semi achieves its low power in part through the use of 27,600 individual gated clocks throughout the design, permitting fine-grained blocks of unused logic to be powered down automatically. System software can set processor frequency parameters. The chip then automatically shifts power-supply voltage for each processor core to the minimal power level, adjusting to account for the device's temperature and operating conditions.

Dual-core Power part packs peripherals. Chip has two memory controllers and support for Express and Ethernet.

The company is aiming for design wins in a range of networking, wireless infrastructure, storage and military/aerospace systems. Ultimately, the startup aims to roll a line of processors that range from single- to eight-core versions.

Samples ship
PA Semi sent out its first samples in December. The 65nm chip will have to go through one more stepping to eliminate bugs and add "architectural efficiencies," said Dobberpuhl. The company expects production quantities to ship by year's end.

Extreme Engineering said it has one unidentified customer that is funding development of its initial product, a 3U-size board for the VITA 46 format. Extreme also has a VME card in development. Telecom customers reportedly have expressed interest in an Advanced TCA board, and Extreme said it's prepping for development of a MicroTCA board for a military user. It is also rolling out a desktop development system, priced at $2,000.

PA Semi is selling single-unit samples of its chip for $700 and its own board development kit for $8,500. Volume pricing has not yet been announced. The chip supports Linux, VxWorks and QNX Neutrino.

Extreme's VITA 46 board sells for $7,800 in single quantities, with OEM discounts available. The board, the XPedite8070, has 2Gbytes of DDR2 and 1Gbyte of NAND flash.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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