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On the fringe
The New DSP
Gene FrantzTI Principal Fellow, Futurist and Business Development Manager, DSP
If you have followed my blogs over the years you know that I am seen as the Digital Signal Processor guy. You may also remember not too far back that TI announced we were no longer a DSP company but an Analog and Embedded Processor company. To my surprise, and so for many of my colleagues, I was happy to hear that we were finally putting the emphasis in the right place – on the system rather than on the enabling technology. What I have had to deal with in my mind is what do we call this new class of processor? In my mind the term “Embedded Processor” did not quite capture the value. Then I began to list the various Embedded Processors (EP) that we had identified. To my surprise many, if not all of them, had more than one processing element on the device. In fact, some of our state of the art Davince class and OMAP processors have anywhere from a couple to fifteen or twenty processing elements on them. Notice I have used the term “processing elements” as I am still having difficulties with the term processor. As I count the processing elements I find multiple ARM processors, multiple programmable DSPs, and multiple DSP accelerators. Some of the accelerators are programmable, some are configurable and some just do one thing very well. The latter, as I put it, still have two instructions: On and off.So, what do we call this new class of processors on a chip? Some have called it Multi-core, but I don’t think this captures the value. So, I have concluded that the proper name for this new class of product could either be “Embedded System Processor”, or "Embedded Processor System." In either case the key word is not processor, but system. These devices are an accumulation of heterogeneous processing elements all working together to optimally solve a larger problem than any one of them could do alone. And when I say along, I also include the idea of multiple identical processors on the same device (I call this Multi-core).To, there it is, we have created a brand new product category in the world of integrated circuits, the Embedded System Processor – or is it the Embedded Processor System? Well, anyway, it is the perfect marriage of the Embedded Processor and the Digital Signal Processor.
I agree that "Embedded Processor" is now just a subset of the overall offering and not a good representative term for many modern devices. Even the more traditional embedded processors have become richer devices with many peripherals and accelerators to provide system solutions. I don't think that even "Embedded" is always appropriate anymore either. For example, TI OMAP 4 processors will power the next generation of Windows 8 computers, moving them beyond embedded applications. I think that "System-on-Chip" is the best description for many of these types of devices.
With the OMAP 5 processors, we take "processing elements" even further with even more special-purpose accelerators, heterogeneous multi-core ARM processors and extending graphics from a single GPU to multi-core GPU. Moving forward, this trend will extend further to dozens of additional "processing elements" to provide the best performance at the lowest power. Gone are the days of a device with a single "processor" for many applications, as our process technologies shrink and we can do more things with less power with this approach.
The answer is [IMO] - 'There is not an answer'. Anytime that we open a new door in technology advancement, we only see a glimpse of what is to come.
Any terminology that is selected can applied to extremes beyond its original intent. Someone could market their 'sub-MSP430 class device' as an Embedded Processor System while someone else markets their 'Intergalactic 5,283 processing element device' as 'only' a subsystem. Just like in the days that we had 'Commodore 64 computers' and 'Cray Cyber series computers' - each was labeled as a computer [Cray later graduated to Super Computer], but with vastly different performance levels.
It is not about the name of the 'tool', it is about how many folks want the 'tool'. When your 'tool' is right, and your branding is right, and your marketing is right, your 'tool' will be the definition or yardstick that folks will use. Like "Get Cray-level performance"...
The term 'tool' was used to get techies to think about the words instead of 'techie stuff' like GHz, GB, GMACS, SNACKS, etc.
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