Linley Newsletter: March 7, 20109

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Linley Newsletter

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Issue #642

March 7, 2019


Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill

Contributors: Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler, Bob Wheeler


In This Issue:

- Arm Floats New ISA With Helium

- Snapdragon X55 Modem Hits 7Gbps

- Synaptics Pairs Ears With Brains

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Arm Floats New ISA With Helium

By Mike Demler

The Arm v8.1-M ISA includes the new M-Profile Vector Extension (MVE), comprising a set of features (code-named Helium) that will enable future Cortex-M CPUs to perform 128-bit vector/SIMD operations. Helium is functionally similar to Cortex-A's Neon vector/SIMD extensions, but just as helium is a lighter noble gas than neon, Arm v8.1-M can scale to fit the 32-bit data paths and register files in smaller Cortex-M CPUs. Lead customers received early access in 2018, but the company has withheld the names and other details of the initial CPUs based on the new ISA. It expects the first silicon to hit the market in 2021, however.

Helium extends the Arm v8.0-M mainline architecture, which currently appears in Cortex-M33 as well as the security-enhanced Cortex-M35P. The mainline ISA includes DSP/SIMD and FPU options missing from the baseline ISA in the smaller Cortex-M23. In the updated ISA, Helium (like Neon) uses the FPU registers for 128-bit vector processing. But whereas the Aarch64 architecture in Arm v8-A implements 32x128-bit registers in each Neon unit, Arm v8.1-M avoids expanding die area by reorganizing the 32x32-bit FPU registers into just 8x128-bit vector registers.

Arm v8.1-M adds approximately 150 new instructions to Cortex-M CPUs, including complex-math operations, INT8 vector dot products, lane predication, loop predication, and gather/scatter access to load/store memory. Machine-learning performance increases by 15x for matrix-math operations, and FFTs run 5x faster relative to Arm v8.0-M CPUs. Customers will appreciate the performance boost from the new vector/SIMD extensions, which enable them to employ a familiar tool chain for their lightweight DSP and neural-network applications. But the first Helium cores won't appear until 2021, leaving plenty of time for competitors to update their ISAs.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12109

Snapdragon X55 Modem Hits 7Gbps

By Linley Gwennap

Before even the first 5G phones roll out, Qualcomm is already preparing its second-generation 5G modem. The new Snapdragon X55 pushes the maximum data rate to 7Gbps, far beyond the top speed of LTE phones. More importantly, however, it expands the features to support a broader range of networks, including both TDD and FDD modes as well as both standalone and non-standalone modes. The new modem also allows operators to implement 4G and 5G on the same frequencies, a boon to operators that lack enough spectrum above 2.5GHz.

Qualcomm enhanced and expanded its 5G RF chips as well. Its second-generation millimeter-wave (mmWave) front end enables thinner phones and covers more bands than the original. The company also introduced its first 5G envelope tracker and first 5G antenna tuner. These components reduce power and improve signal strength. Qualcomm offers additional RF components through its joint venture with TDK.

The cellular industry is working feverishly to deploy commercial 5G service and smartphones. More than 20 operators around the world expect to test or launch commercial service this year. Huawei, LG, Samsung, Xiaomi, ZTE, and others announced 5G phones at the recent Mobile World Congress. All except Huawei's Mate X use Qualcomm's first-generation X50 modem chip.

Qualcomm will also integrate the 5G modem in future SoCs. We expect the company's next-generation premium-smartphone processor (presumably called the Snapdragon 865) to integrate the X55 modem. This SoC could reuse the transceiver and other RF components from the X55 platform, although these components will add to the cost of second-generation 5G phones.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12107

Synaptics Pairs Ears With Brains

By Tom R. Halfhill

Partly to protect privacy, and partly to reduce network latency, the newest embedded processors for smart speakers and other voice-activated devices are adding AI acceleration to offload speech recognition from the servers at distant data centers. After listening closely to this growing customer base, Synaptics is sampling its new AudioSmart AS-3xx SoCs for voice assistants.

The first version to arrive is the AS-371, which began sampling in January. Three derivatives are slated to sample this month; all should begin production this year. The AS-371 has four Arm Cortex-A53 CPUs for application software, a proprietary security processor, and a proprietary neural-network engine for speech recognition. Three models add a low-power Cortex-M33 core for always-on wake-word awareness but replace the neural engine with a Cadence Tensilica HiFi 4 DSP. The low-end model substitutes a single Cortex-M33 for the Cortex-A53s in the other chips; the M33 is a low-power controller that runs a small RTOS instead of Linux or Android.

Some Google Home products already employ Synaptics SoCs, and Microsoft's Cortana smart speaker has a Synaptics AudioSmart DSP for far-field voice recognition. So does Netgear's Orbi Voice, a smart speaker that features Amazon Alexa voice control. It can pair with the Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System, an 802.11ac router with repeaters that extend the network's range throughout a large house or office.

All these products have Synaptics chips that are less integrated than the AS-371. It can combine the Wi-Fi repeater and smart-speaker functions in one device by adding an 802.11 radio attached to its PCI Express interfaces. As an established supplier of voice DSPs and controllers for touchpads and fingerprint sensors, Synaptics is a logical choice for advanced user interfaces.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

https://www.linleygroup.com/mpr/article.php?id=12108

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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