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The multicore challenge for DSP vendors

Posted: 16 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multicore DSP chips? DSP applications? workload partitioning?

There has been a lot of press lately about startup companies offering multicore DSP chips. What's less widely discussed is that large, established DSP chip vendors have been offering multicore DSP chips for years. These chips have been popular in "channelized" applications in which workload partitioning is fairly straightforward. But as multicore DSPs move into a wider range of applications--and as the number of cores per chip grows--it's becoming much harder to partition workloads among cores. This creates a challenge for established DSP processor vendors, whose chips have been the preferred solution for many applications in large part because they have been easy to use (at least compared with the alternatives). If the migration to multicore designs makes DSPs significantly harder to use, DSP vendors will lose a key competitive advantage.

Software dev't frenzy
There are plenty of other companies poised to take advantage of any missteps. There's been a veritable frenzy of activity lately focused on creating novel strategies and tools for multicore software development. For example, several multicore DSP chip startups have announced promising--although as yet unproven--programming approaches. And in the so-called high-performance computing space, where multiprocessor servers tackle apps like financial market analysis, a variety of companies offer sophisticated tools to simplify appslication software development.

Mainstream DSP vendors risk being leapfrogged by other vendors that preemptively deploy effective multicore development tools and strategies. If that happens, DSPs may find themselves displaced from some of their traditional application strongholds. It wouldn't be the first time.

Back in the 1990s, DSP chip vendors ceded much of their military/aerospace market to high-performance CPUs. Floating-point DSPs had been dominant in applications like radar, but when DSP vendors curtailed their investments in high-performance floating-point chips, system developers switched to general-purpose CPUs instead. Arguably, that was a small market, and the DSP vendors could afford to let it go. But if they don't create a viable strategy to enable widespread use of their multicore chips soon, they may watch bigger markets go the same route.

- Jeff Bier
Berkeley Design Technology Inc.

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