Linley Newsletter: August 8, 2019

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Linley Newsletter

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Issue #664

August 8, 2019


Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill

Contributors: Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler, Bob Wheeler


In This Issue:

- An Inside Look at AI Accelerators

- Arm IP Licensing Gets More Flexible


Save the Date: Linley Fall Processor Conference

Registration is now open for the Linley Fall Processor Conference returning to Santa Clara, California on October 23-24. The annual two-day conference features technical presentations addressing processors for communications, IoT, servers, and advanced automotive systems.

The event will feature curated technical presentations from leading chip and IP vendors, including several new announcements. Popular sessions include keynotes by industry thought leaders and analysts from The Linley Group as well as panel discussions. Our events are a great place to meet industry experts and network with your peers during breaks, lunches, and the exhibition and reception on the first evening of the conference.

For information about the Fall Processor Conference, access:

https://linleygroup.com/events/event.php?num=47


An Inside Look at AI Accelerators

By Linley Gwennap

Most smartphone-processor vendors have been somewhat close-mouthed about their deep-learning accelerators (DLAs), hoping to gain an advantage over competitors. Once their chips reach production, however, their design decisions become more apparent. Our analysis of recent die photos reveals rapid innovation as these vendors deploy their second- and third-generation designs. Apple, for example, moved from a dual-core DSP in the A11 to a DLA using eight custom cores in the A12. Optimized for neural networks, these cores are smaller but twice as powerful as the older DSPs.

MediaTek and Qualcomm had also used dual DSP cores in previous generations but more recently extended their designs, adding in-house accelerators that include large arrays of multiply-accumulate (MAC) units. These arrays efficiently handle the MAC calculations that are common in convolutional neural networks (CNNs).

Most of the popular AI-enabled mobile applications (such as face unlock) employ CNNs for vision and image processing. The MAC accelerators implement 8-bit integer (INT8) calculations, which consume less power than 16- or 32-bit floating-point (FP16 or FP32) operations. But neural networks developed in FP32 must be "quantized" before they can run in INT8 mode.

Our die-photo analysis shows that the latest premium processors from Apple and Samsung devote about 5% of their die area to DLAs, whereas the Snapdragon 855 DLA requires nearly 8%. (We thank our friends at TechInsights for providing high-quality die photos for this analysis.) MediaTek's Helio P90 targets "mid-premium" smartphones that cost less than premium models, so the company had to adopt a lower transistor budget for its DLA. Even so, the P90 delivers premium performance on mobile tests such as AI-Benchmark and Master Lu's AI benchmark. Measuring AI performance remains a challenge, however, and these two tests yield somewhat different results.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12179

Arm IP Licensing Gets More Flexible

By Mike Demler

Licensing of processor intellectual property (IP) traditionally involves large upfront costs, but free open-source RISC-V cores have upended that business model. Although Arm's DesignStart program offers Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M3 CPUs with no upfront license fee, they're older and, on their own, insufficient to build a complete chip. To address those issues and attract small customers that might otherwise choose RISC-V, the company has launched a new "try before you buy" program called Flexible Access, which allows designers to evaluate and select cores from a larger IP catalog.

Rather than pay separate license fees before using each CPU, GPU, or other SoC component, Flexible Access customers pay an annual subscription fee to gain access to a variety of cores and system IP. The program doesn't eliminate licensing fees; it defers them, letting participants evaluate multiple cores before committing to a specific chip design. When customers send their tapeout to a foundry, they pay the standard per-product licenses. Royalty fees remain the same as in the traditional Arm licensing model.

The new program has two tiers: entry level and standard. For $75,000, participants in the entry-level tier get access to the complete library, but they can only use it for one tapeout per year. Startups often minimize costs by building a few prototype chips in a shuttle run, so Arm says it's flexible regarding what qualifies as a product tapeout. The standard tier permits an unlimited number of tapeouts for $200,000 annually. Both options include standard Arm technical support and an initial setup session with a support engineer.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12180

Drive World With ESC Launches in Silicon Valley This August

On August 27-29, the Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). This inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technologies of tomorrow. Linley Group analysts Linley Gwennap and Mike Demler will be presenting at this premier event. For more information and registration, visit:

http://driveworldexpo.com/invite

About Linley Newsletter

Linley Newsletter is a free electronic newsletter that reports and analyzes advances in microprocessors, networking chips, and mobile-communications chips. It is published by The Linley Group. To subscribe, please visit:

http://www.linleygroup.com/newsletters/newsletter_subscribe.php

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors

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