Linley Newsletter: February 15, 2018

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Linley Newsletter

(Formerly Processor Watch, Linley Wire, and Linley on Mobile)

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Issue #587

February 15, 2018


Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill

Contributors: Mike Demler, Bob Wheeler


In This Issue:

- Nordic Expands Into Cellular IoT

- Imagination GPUs Shift to Automotive

- Broadcom Opens New Switch SDK


Nordic Expands Into Cellular IoT

By Bob Wheeler

Following its success in Bluetooth 5 MCUs, Nordic has entered the cellular market with new products for LTE-M (Category M1) and NB-IoT. Rather than introduce only an SoC, it worked with Qorvo to develop a complete system-in-package (SiP) that incorporates that company's RF front end along with Nordic's MCU and radio. The new NRF91-series also includes versions with integrated GPS for asset trackers. Nordic is sampling the SiPs to lead customers and has demonstrated them on Telia and Verizon LTE-M networks.

The heart of the NRF91 SiP is a custom SoC that integrates an application processor, an undisclosed amount of RAM and flash memory, an LTE baseband and transceiver, a GPS receiver, and power management. It has a Cortex-M33 CPU, which adds TrustZone security features and outperforms Cortex-M4. The design includes Arm's optional CryptoCell-310 core for root of trust and accelerated over-the-air encryption. Nordic supplements its hardware with a software-development kit, as it does for the NRF52. The SoC's integrated transceiver covers 700MHz to 2.2GHz and handles both LTE-M and NB-IoT bandwidths, delivering data rates of up to 360kbps and 60kbps, respectively. The NRF91 SiP comes in a 10mm x 16mm LGA with 0.5mm pitch and includes all necessary crystals and passive components.

The NRF91 is equivalent to LTE-M modules from companies such as Gemalto, Sierra Wireless, Telit Communications, and U-blox, but it occupies at least 40% less board area. Nordic is later to market with LTE-M than other chip vendors; Altair (Sony), Qualcomm, and Sequans have all reached production. By taking a step up the supply chain, it's minimizing time to market, narrowing the lead of competing chip vendors.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

http://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=11927

Imagination GPUs Shift to Automotive

By Mike Demler

The new PowerVR GT8540 doubles the performance of the GT8525, the first GPU in the Furian Series8XT line. The 4-cluster GT8540 is at the low end of Furian's range, which theoretically allows up to 64 clusters, but it's suitable for game consoles and "super-mid" smartphones. Its performance and power efficiency are an upgrade from the predecessor Series7XT, such as the quad-core model in MediaTek's flagship Helio X30 processor. Furian also improves PowerVR's unique hardware virtualization features, which target automotive and other safety-critical systems.

Series8XT GPUs implement Imagination's third-generation virtualization architecture, so they can simultaneously handle workloads for up to eight virtual machines (VMs) managed by a host CPU's hypervisor. The ability to process multiple workloads on a single GPU saves cost, but virtualization also increases security by isolating the various applications and OSs.

In an automobile, for example, the advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) and digital dashboard are critical functions that must operate in secure domains. The infotainment system also requires isolation to ensure digital-rights management (DRM) of copyrighted media. Vehicle owners can install third-party apps for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but those apps run in a separate open domain that keeps malware away from the critical ADAS, drivetrain, and telematics functions.

No other GPU supports virtualization, giving Furian an advantage for multiscreen systems and security-sensitive tasks. Protecting critical systems from malware is a must-have for increasingly digital vehicles. The PowerVR GT8540's ability to simultaneously drive up to eight applications or OSs will appeal to automotive OEMs, which can minimize cost and power by running multiple graphics workloads on a single processor.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

http://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=11928

Broadcom Opens New Switch SDK

By Bob Wheeler

In a bold departure, Broadcom is publishing the source code of its new software-development kit (SDK) for switch-chip drivers. The SDK is the company's third set of open driver APIs, but it's the first that allows others to modify and redistribute the source code. It also adopts a new API approach based on logical tables, so Broadcom calls it the SDKLT. The initial drivers only support the first-generation Tomahawk (BCM56960), however, and Broadcom has declined to reveal a roadmap for supporting other switch chips.

Because of the new logical-table design, the company developed the SDKLT from scratch. For more than a decade, its SDK has used function-based APIs, which are the foundation for OpenNSL. The problem with this approach is that every new switch feature requires a new function, causing an explosion of API functions to more than 700 in OpenNSL.

In the SDKLT, logical tables abstract device resources, hiding physical-table details from the programmer. The result is that tens of API functions now manage switch behavior versus hundreds in the function-based SDK. The logical-table API carries an Apache 2.0 license, whereas all other SDKLT code is restricted to use on Broadcom silicon.

Where the SDKLT goes from here will depend in part on the developer community outside Broadcom. Because Tomahawk is the de facto standard for 100G Ethernet white-box switches, many ODMs, OEMs, and cloud-service providers already have experience with it. Broadcom claims the new API and associated documentation negates the need for most developers to access the Tomahawk programmer's guide, which remains confidential. The company is making all SDKLT code readily available on GitHub and lowering the licensing barrier for customers; doing so will encourage development and sharing.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

http://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=11929

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 and consolidates our previous electronic newsletters: Processor Watch, Linley Wire, and Linley on Mobile. To subscribe, please visit:

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

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors
SEMICONDUCTOR ANALYTICS

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