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Atmel CAP architecture aims at emerging mid-volume markets

Posted: 14 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CAP? ESC-Taiwan? ASIC? FPGA?

Atmel Corp. has released its new 32bit ARM MCU-based "Customizable Advanced Processor" (CAP) architecture at the recent 7th Embedded System Conference (ESC-Taiwan). With the advantages of low cost and high performance, respectively, from the standard MCU and ASIC, the new category of CAP is expected to replace the solution combining the traditional standard MCU with FPGA, and aims at emerging mid-volume markets.

While the number of ASIC starts declines greatly every year, the average revenue and total volume per design keep growing, according to Gartner Dataquest. And thereunto, the number of design projects with total yields of about 1-5 million grows the most. Hence, the "mid-range volume market is not be addressable anymore by ASIC," said Michel Le Lan, CASP marketing director at Atmel.

Accordingly, Atmel has launched the so called "semi-customized metal programmable" (MP) processor fabric, CAP, which integrates the advantages of an MCU and an ASIC, making it ideal for system integrators seeking an ARM-based core, a proven and rich IP portfolio, shorter cycle time delivery, low cost, low risk and NRE, and a solution they could customize according to their needs. CAP provides the optimized solution that is highly integrated, flexible and more economical for emerging markets with unpredictable demand.

Le Lan explained, "Semi-customized CAP fabric denotes 85 percent of its characterized silicon is fixed, and remaining 15 percent could be customized according to customer's need." He further represented that the CAP has finished chip placed and route, and embedded with validated ARM core, periphery and interface IP, as well MP modules and its synthesis constraints. Accordingly, designers may add customized logic on the chip flexibly without high NRE or longer design cycle.

"But CAP is not a structured ASIC solution," Le Lan emphasized, "CAP fabric adopts Metal Programmable Cell Fabric (MPCF)-based logic block, which may provide almost the same gate counts as a standard cell ASIC, lower cost and power consumption, as well as a customized MCU based on a variety of application requirements. It only takes 10-12 weeks for system from prototype build up, logic integration, layout and route for MP layer to manufacture to production."

With the introduction of the CAP series, Le Lan said he expects that the new architecture would grab market share from existing FPGA and standard MCU market. "Besides lower NRE cost and front investment, the unit price of the CAP-based monolithic chip is roughly equivalent to the standard cell, after their mass production. Not only can it be a perfect way to test med-sized emerging market, but also it is expected to replace traditional high cost FPGA+MCU scheme," he added.

Based on the 80MHz ARM7TDMI processor core, the AT91CAP7 MCUs come with 160KB chip cache SRAM, 256K ROM, and 250K/450K routable ASIC gates. The ARM9-based AT91CAP9 series integrate a 200 MHz ARM926EJ-S core with 16KB cache memory, 32KB SRAM/ROM, and 250K/500K routable ASIC gates.

According to Atmel, CAP7/CAP9 series would be distributed by Progate Group Corp. (PGC) in Taiwan, and targeted system customers require production scale below 250k. According to Albert Hu, general manager at PGC, Taiwan system integrators face the challenge of low profits, with total revenue increasing but the practical design projects reduced. Accordingly, among the variety of alternatives from FPGA, ASSP or ASIC solutions, "while CAP is not the only solution, it is the best way to meet the requirements for Taiwan system customers with mid-volume output."

Hu added, CAP series of products were targeted to the increasingly growing CCTV market, and the areas of projector, printer output and digital frame related fast development display markets in Taiwan and China.

- Susan Hong
EE Times-Taiwan

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