Here’s some of what we’ve been looking at over the last month between summer picnics.
Thank you to those readers who provided feedback. We’re still tweaking the new formatting and want to product a newsletter that you find value in. Let us know what works, what doesn’t work, what’s just downright annoying to you. This includes subject manner, format, email service, etc.
Tensilica Enhances HiFi 3 Audio DSP
Audio has becoming an increasingly important computer interface. We now talk to our cell phones for answers and inquiries, we talk to devices such as Amazon Echoes and Google Home in our living rooms and kitchens, and probably soon we will be conversing with our autonomous cars. Speech is becoming an extremely important interface and will continue to be so in the future. There are new coder-decoders (codec) for voice over LTE (VoLTE) that require additional DSP processing to deliver more realistic speech. But the process all this speech requires more and more DSP processing. In addition, audio/video entertainment is also becoming more complex with new surround audio technologies associated with ultra-high-definition televisions. These also require complex DSP processing. One of the leaders in audio DSP processors is the Tensilica division of Cadence. It recently announced an enhanced version of its low-power HiFi 3 DSP to take on the latest standards. The new Cadence/Tensilica HiFi 3z has a 30% improvement in architecture performance for advanced audio processing. The DSP also offers an optional floating-point processor which is helpful for new algorithms.
The original HiFi 3 is a low-power DSP with extensive support for the many communications and entertainment audio codecs. The 3z brings significant architectural improvements, while keeping the power consumption low. The higher performance does come with a roughly 20% larger die area penalty (depending upon configuration) in the same process node. The 3z DSP core offers a higher performance than the HiFi 3, but lower power that the HiFi 4 that’s been optimized for performance. The HiFi 4 is been used by a number of vendors including NXP (in the i.MX8 processor), but doesn’t offer the 3z balance of performance and very lower power.
The HiFi 3z architecture enhancements over the HiFi 3 include: doubling the multiply accumulators for 16 x 16 operation and an additional separate load function from the local data memory. There were enhancements to the instruction set as well to accelerate FFTs, FIRs, and IIRs. All told, key kernel performance metrics were 70 to 90% faster on 16 x 16 operations and 40% faster on 32 x 32 FFTs. This resulted in overall codec performance improvements of 30 to 40%. This is especially useful for the newest VoLTE audio codec, such as Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB).
The extra performance is also welcome in the latest “hearables” ear buds, where complex audio processing must be performed at very low power levels.
The new DSP is supported by a wide range of software packages and is available immediately from Cadence.
End-of-Life for More Intel IoT/Wearables Modules
Last newsletter we reported how Intel’s deprecating of the New Products Group led to layoffs and the company discontinuing three modules. Now the company has finally killed the rest of its wearable modules efforts, with a discontinuation of the Curie module.
Intel is also discontinuing the IoT Arduino 101 board product, designed for makers. The company is trying to find a new manufacturer for the board, but it’s not a good sign for Intel’s IoT efforts. Intel appears to be focusing its IoT efforts on intelligent gateways and cloud servers. The challenge for Intel is that ARM licensees own the markets Intel is retreating from and are also extending upward into intelligent gateways and cloud servers.
Intel Opens the Purley Gate
Intel launched their Skylake generation of server processors, code named "Purley," as the "Intel Xeon Scalable Platform." Intel changed from the very successful and widely copied automotive-style 3-5-7 number branding to Platinum-Gold-Silver-Bronze (PGSB) event-sponsorship-style labeling. Maybe Intel is aiming for a sports analogy, but 'Platinum' throws that off a bit and leaves room for a 'Diamond' level in the future. However, the important part of the new processors arrivals is that it is no longer possible to simply compare core counts and memory channels as an indication of workload performance. On-chip un-core architecture and core interconnect also has a large impact, as does socket-to-socket interconnect for multi-socket systems. In any event, moving to PGSB branding makes it difficult to compare older Xeon E3-E5-E7 models to Xeon Scalable models, and Intel did not publish much in the way of hard benchmarks.
Our take is that Intel is now playing defense trying to preserve their near total dominance of server unit shipments. Server and data center markets are now at "peak Intel", with AMD EPYC and Cavium ThunderX2 ramping in 2H2017, plus IBM POWER9 and Qualcomm Centriq scheduled to launch in the same timeframe. Competition is good for the market and customers, but Intel will now have to adapt.
AMD ships EPYC
On the other side of the x86 server pond, AMD indicated in its Q2 earning call that it began shipping EPYC server processors during the last two weeks of June, marking the kick-off between a much-anticipated battle in servers between AMD and Intel. It will take a few more quarters for the products to ramp up, but AMD already has seen a positive earnings improvement based on the Ryzen desktop processors. August, AMD will also ship it’s new Vega high-performance GPU and its 16 core Ryzen Threadripper extreme desktop processor. AMD has been extremely busy launching multiple products over the past few months; this year should be a turning point for the company.
The Latest in the Apple-Qualcomm Battle
The dispute between Apple and Qualcomm is now expanding to encompass more of the wireless industry. In an attempt to punish Apple for non-payment of royalty fees by its contract manufacturers (CMs), Qualcomm is seeking import bans on iPhones using the Intel modem. A lobbying group representing Amazon, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, and Samsung, referred to as the Computer & Communications Industry Association, has since sided with Apple for fear over what such a ban could represent for other disputes. Additionally, to enforce and protect its intellectual property (IP), Qualcomm filed suit against the CMs that withheld payment and those CMs filed counter-suits.
While the dispute remains between Apple and Qualcomm, the legal maneuvering is now putting pressure on the rest of the ecosystem to react, and in some cases, take sides. Unfortunately, this dispute can drag for years in the court and would likely cause damage to the industry if it drags on. But like past disputes between tech giants, it will provide an ongoing source of articles for the press, entertainment for those watching from the outside, and untold riches for the army of attorneys involved.
TIRIAS Research Named in the top 15 most quoted analysts
Apollo Research named Jim McGregor and Kevin Krewell as two of the top fifteen most quoted analysts for the fist six months of 2017. In general, TIRIAS Research is quoted at least two times a day on average. These guys need to get back to work writing!
TIRIAS Research Can Be Found in Public!
You’ll also spot TIRIAS Research’s Principal Analysts attending these events over the next month:
· Hot Chips
Unfortunately, there are no prizes awarded for spotting us.
TIRIAS Research White Papers
All our white papers can be found here.
As always, we encourage your feedback
Kevin Krewell, Jim McGregor, Paul Teich
TIRIAS Research is a high-tech research and advisory firm, an independent third-party resource to high-tech companies. We provide custom research and advisory services on technologies, markets and ecosystems to a select group of technology industry leaders. Our Principal Analysts have decades of in-depth expertise in silicon, software, and systems specification, design and deployment.