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Hybrid chips gain ground

Posted: 24 May 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:processor cores? MPU? chip market?

IMS Research released a report on the trend toward processor hybridization. According to the market research firm, about half of the processors shipped in 2011 had two or more different types of processor cores. They estimate the total market at $111 billion.

Hybridization of processors seems to be a critical step in upping the competitive edge in computers and is also a step for chip vendors into smartphones, tablets and other high performance embedded devices, according to the report. Hybrid applications processor growth in smartphones is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 percent through 2016 and at a 14 percent CAGR in tablets, according to IMS.

With smartphone sales exceeding PC sales and tablet sales projected to grow steeply, hybridized application specific mobile processors represent the second largest class of processor by revenue after PC processors, IMS said.

Tom Hackenberg, semiconductors research manager at IMS and author of the report, said through a statement that the mobile and media consumption device markets have been critical to the processor hybridization trend over the past decade. Several firms have been offering heterogeneous application-specific processors with a microprocessor core integrating a graphics processor to add value within confined parameters of space, power and cost, Hackenberg said.

The most notable example of hybrid processors are chips that combine a CPU with a graphics processing unit (GPU), introduced by both Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) in 2010. While this hybridization has eliminated the market for the integrated graphics chipset, the GPU market is expected to continue thriving at estimated revenue CAGR of 4.1 percent from 2011 through 2016, according to IMS.

�With double digit revenue growth in these [smartphone and tablet] markets, it�s not surprising to see major processor vendors such as AMD and Intel adopting this strategy to compete for computer market share and expending increasing research and development on embedded solutions," Hackenberg said.

Hackenberg said the hybridization would get even more competitive with the recent launch of the first smartphone based on Intel's Atom processor. According to Hackenburg, Intel is combining an x86 microprocessor, graphics licensed from Nvidia Corp. and configurable security logic as a "hybrid processor triple play to capture share.?

IMS said it has identified no less than 20 processor vendors that now provide dozens of heterogeneous processing solutions on a single chip. Some of these converging processors have been evolving over time, such as the digital signal controller, a convergence of DSPs and MCUs with the real-time processing performance of a DSP and an expanded instruction set for controller applications, the firm said. FPGA vendors are now actively targeting SoC ecosystems with an embedded processor core identical to and applications processor or microcontroller but enhanced with configurable logic, the firm said.

"This trend is growing and spreading," Hackenburg said. Other processor vendors are now including application specific configurable logic."

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times

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