Imagination reveals new META family of embedded SoC processors

META processor family redefines key features and attributes needed for tomorrow’s systems on chip

Tokyo, Japan: — December 01, 2009 — Imagination Technologies, a leading multimedia chip technologies company, announces the full roadmap for its Series2 generation of META processors, designed for the SoC-centric (System-on-Chip) age of silicon design.

The META family of 32-bit SoC processor IP cores is a unique range of embedded processors that combine both general purpose and DSP capabilities within a hardware multi-threaded execution infrastructure to deliver exceptionally high processor utilisation and tolerance to SoC system latencies while also delivering new levels of real-time response that makes them ideal for SoC applications.

Indeed, the META processors are able to deliver both "hard real time" capabilities – the ability to respond to an external event in a single clock cycle including complete context switch – while also providing excellent Linux or Android applications processor platforms with fully coherent caches and MMUs. The META family stands out as a leading example of next generation SoC embedded processor architecture.

Furthermore, by the addition of features to facilitate highly efficient integration with multi-standard communications engines such as Imagination's ENSIGMA UCC programmable Wi-Fi and demodulation engines, META delivers a new generation of processors fully optimised for the internet and broadcast connected world.

SoCs being designed today place very different demands on embedded processors than those of a few years ago, as levels of systems integration continue to rise and applications make increasing use of high level APIs and operating systems. No longer is a single processor the highest priority user of system resources - it must increasingly share bus bandwidth, memory and other system resources with other sub-system processors for multimedia, communications and other specialised functions. This means the underlying architecture of embedded processors must be updated to reflect the fundamental changes in operating environment. It is with this evolving understanding of the practical realities of embedded processing in today's SoCs that Imagination has created the Series2 architecture for its META family of SoC processors.

Says Tony King-Smith, VP marketing, Imagination: "For too long chip designers have stuck to traditional concepts of CPU-based SoC design, which is increasingly not appropriate for the levels of system integration we're now seeing in SoCs. Embedded processors – whether running applications under Linux or highly optimised DSP algorithms - now need to be much more effective in ensuring every clock cycle counts to minimise power and maximise performance, Based on our years of experience of embedding META processors in many of our SoC IP cores and customer SoC designs, as well as our work with many of the world's most advanced SoC vendors integrating our high performance multimedia and communications engines with every major CPU architecture, we've built on the core strengths of our unique META processor architecture to meet the needs of SoCs far better than traditional CPUs for today's low power, high performance connected multimedia age."

There are now three META processor product lines:

META HTP SoC Application Processors are designed to be a comprehensive alternative to traditional multi-processor approaches, where high-level operating systems (OS) are essential for application execution, alongside lower level tasks with tough real time constraints and demanding DSP capabilities

META MTP SoC Embedded Processors target applications such as high speed communications and DSP intensive algorithms like advanced audio, utilising native code execution for maximum performance, combined with a HLOS such as Linux or an RTOS such as Imagination's MeOS™ for ease of integration and function abstraction

META LTP Embedded Controllers are single threaded, ultra-small 32-bit cores which deliver full compatibility with other META processors in a negligible silicon footprint

META cores are capable of up to 1GHz operation on a 40G process, for a synthesised core. All the META cores are fully synthesisable using readily available standard libraries. Imagination is offering all members of the META Series2 family of SoC processors for licensing now.

Editor's Notes

More Detail on the META Family

META's hardware multi-threading delivers exceptional latency tolerance, and that translates in real terms to getting 2x or more usable processing power compared to conventional CPUs for similar silicon area, and often at lower clock speeds. The single cycle context switching combined with other advanced interrupt and low level hardware scheduling advances make META processors ideal for "hard real time" applications, where high data rates and demanding high speed event response mean single cycle context switch capability can make all the difference. This plus the ability to uniquely combine DSP and RISC-like thread configurations within a single unified engine allow designers to have a single embedded processor that delivers all the high level application as well as highly optimised DSP processing and real time performance demanded in many systems.

All META processors share common instruction sets, enabling easy migration from lower end cores to higher end as system designs progress from one generation to the next.,. This unique ability to use hardware multi-threading to create multiple virtual processors also offers SoC systems designers the ability to consolidate the various processing nodes used throughout the SoC under one consistent, silicon efficient processor architecture.

The META SoCket™ means that designers can simply switch one META core for another with little or no impact on the rest of the SoC design. Customers can start with a low or mid-range META, then follow a logical upgrade curve to higher levels of capability as experience with META and multi-threading grows and SoC architects see the benefits of utilising META processors across multiple blocks in a SoC.

Many conventional processors are regularly stalled while waiting for memory requests to complete, typically causing as much as 50%, of the processing resource to be wasted. META's unique implementation of multi-threading enables it to change between hardware contexts each clock cycle, with up to four threads supported. This means that while a memory request for a Linux application on one thread is being resolved, an audio decoder can be progressed on another thread, data progressed though a communications protocol stack on another, and real-time hardware events serviced on another thread. Each thread sees the processor as its own, creating in effect up to four virtual processors utilising a single datapath. Caches can be configured to be coherent or as dedicated cache regions.

This unique approach to embedded processor design enables META to deliver up to twice the measurable throughput (e.g. Dhrystone) for the same clock speed and silicon area to comparable, state-of-the-art conventional processors. The scalability of the multithreaded META family delivers outstanding DMIPS for any given silicon area and clock-speed, typically ranging from 220 for META LTP to 1610 DMIPS for HTP (at 65nm). Compared to other processor solutions META can use a lower speed clock and less silicon area to deliver the same performance. Indeed, in production META can deliver a demonstrable 2.4 DMIPS per MHz. By utilising Imagination's underlying architecture, which is built from the ground up to support hardware multi-threading, META processors are ideally suited to use in SoCs where high performance and sophisticated real time event handling are critical.

The META HTP family delivers the ultimate combination of powerful general purpose 32-bit processor with high performance DSP and low level control – all in a single, unified datapath and cache. Capable of running many OS – and different OS on each thread if desired – the META HTP is the perfect solution for embedded SoC processor resources. Most configurations of HTP contain either 2 or 4 threads, with at least one configured for DSP and at least one thread used for full Linux. META HTPhas optional double precision IEEE 754-2008 compliant floating point and 64-bit internal buses, loading a 64-bit word in a single cycle.

The META MTP family is designed to deliver the benefits of multi-threading and high performance DSP. Typically configured with two threads, META MTP processors have reduced ALU and cache resources to minimise die size, and are usually using an RTOS or native execution for applications. They are ideal for multimedia processing such as audio or communications. META MTP cores are used in several of Imagination's platform IP solutions and IP cores, where a mix of low level control and DSP or other mathematically intense processing tasks are required. Applications developed for a META MTP can usually be moved to larger META HTP processors without modification, offering an excellent upgrade path as applications mature and expand. META MTPhas optional single precision floating point and 32-bit internal buses.

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