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Multicores still not fit for wireless base stations

Posted: 29 Apr 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multicore processor? wireless? base station? baseband?

Multicore processors should be well-suited for wireless base stations, but so far both the chips and their tools fall short of meeting engineer's needs. That was the view of Alan Gatherer, the chief technology officer for baseband SoCs at HuaWei Technologies Co. Ltd in a keynote address at the Multicore Expo.

Base stations require flexible, integrated processors to handle multiple protocols, making them suitable for multicore processors. But so far, today's chips are not up to the task of these systems expected to generate billions of dollars in revenues as carriers race to build out new 3G and 4G wireless networks.

"We're still not feeling the love in multicore performance either in computations per Watt or per dollar, so there is still some uncertainty whether multicore chips are ready for the base station market," said Gatherer who left Texas Instruments three months ago to join China's rising telecom systems maker.

"It seems like everyone who wants to be successful in multicore is trying to play in base stations, but I am not sure they can make it," Gatherer told attendees. "You guys better help us be successful because if you can't make in this market, it's not clear where you can make it," he told attendees.

The HuaWei developer called for a processor that could be programmed to handle the different packet forwarding tasks in core, edge and access systems. Multicore designers need to solve growing memory bandwidth problems such chips face, he said.

"We have thousands of independent operations going on, and getting them to memory and back again is an organizational problem," Gatherer said. "There's a cloud on the horizon for network processing because as networks get denser we won't be able to cope with the memory access needed," he said.

Compounding the problem, venture capitalists have reduced funds for processor startups dramatically. "We don't see VCs supporting chip development any longer and if someone could fix that it would be nice," he said.

The tools for today's multicore processors are also inadequate, the HuaWei executive said, in part because they don't support real-time processes.

"I don't know if I've ever seen as real-time multicore tool, and we don't use Linux a lot but most of the work on multicore tools is on things like p-threads," Gatherer said. "I don't want to track every thread in my program, so I need to work at a higher level and that's one of the great challenges you can solve for us," he concluded.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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