Archive for November, 2010

November 29th, 2010 ~ by admin

Broadcom’s MIPS Chips

A lot of talk goes on about ARM cores and their increasing use and speed.  While the market penetration, shear speed, and low power of ARM cored devices is certainly amazing its important to not forget that their are other cores in wide use as well, if not as glamorous.  The MIPS architecture was developed at around the same time as ARM (1985) and actually enjoyed success in the market much sooner then ARM did. MIPS continues to be widely used in embedded applications (expecially the MIPS 4000 architecture).

Broadcom Sibyte BCM1250B2K750 - 750MHz dual core MIPS

Broadcom is one of the largest users and producers of MIPS cores devices.  Broadcom recently announced the BRCM5000 MIPSs CPU core. It can issue 2 instructions per cycle and at 40nm runs at at least 1.3GHz (worst case speed).  It should handily clock to 2GHz+ given good process and part selection (the core uses AVS to scale voltage internally to find the perfect voltage/speed combination on a part level basis).  Broadcom chose to not use a multi-core design as a multi-core doubles die area, almost doubles power, but in typical applications does not double performance.  Using a dual-threaded design, on a dual-issue core, does provide almost a doubling of performance, at a minimum of die area.  Die area being a huge concern when the core must be integrated into various products used for mobile devices.  The BRCM5000′s predecessor (the BRCM3000) occupies a mere 1 square mm of die space at 40nm.

Broadcom is not new to the MIPS seen, they have been using them since the 1990′s when Broadcom was founded. Since then they have continually enhanced their products, via internal development, as well as many acquisitions.  Some of the more notable MIPS acquisitions were Sibyte in 2000 who made high-end MIPS network processors and the Xilleon product line from ATI/AMD in 2008 which made Digital TV Processor chips based on the MIPS core.

Just recently Broadcom closed their purchase of Beceem, a company that makes 4G chipsets based on the MIPS core.  MIPS continues to be used not just by Broadcom. Microchip’s PIC32 line is in fact a MIPS R4K processor. Cavium Networks, RMI, Toshiba, NEC, and Sony all continue to use MIPS in a variety of products.   MIPS continues to try to penetrate the smartphone industry, and if at all possible should.  The competition would help keep new innovations coming.

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Uncategorized

November 25th, 2010 ~ by admin

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thankgiving to all our readers and supporters around the world.  Eat lots of turkey, or whatever ya like.

We’ll likely have a few interesting processor news stories as well.

Posted in:
Just For Fun

November 23rd, 2010 ~ by admin

Another Apple 1, Another Quarter Million Dollars

In September a Apple 1 computer with a few accessories sold for $23,000.  Christie’s has just auctioned off an early (first run) Apple 1, with invoice, shipping box, letter from ‘Steven Jobs’ and many accessories for a staggering $213,600.  This would have been one of the original PCB’s, sold without components and later assembled by someone else.  The main CPU is of course a 6502 but in this case a R6502P by Rockwell made in late 1981.

Complete Apple 1

What made this one so much more valuable?  The documentation and original box.  Whoever bought it should however replace the CPU with a white ceramic MOS 6502 to preserve the beauty of the original Apple 1.

November 18th, 2010 ~ by admin

Qualcomm Announces new SnapDragon Processor

Snap! Just 4 days after we posted about next generation Applications processors Qualcomm has announced the next version of the Snapdragon, the MSM8960.  They are moving to a 28nm process (likely TSMC or Global Foundries) and of course dual cores.  Qualcomm is also promising a 5x performance increase, which means they are likely reworking the Scorpion core and likely adding Out-of-Order Execution which offers a significant speed boost.  Graphics speed will also be increased with an updated Adreno graphics core.  The other important detail is that the MSM8960 supports all 3G and LTE modes, making it a single chip solution for pretty much the entire world market. It also, of course, integrates bluetooth, wifi, and GPS.

This should put Qualcomm in a very competitive position against the Tegra 2, OMAP4, and the new Samsung Orion.

All of this at a 75% reduction in power levels. Suddenly my HTC Incredible, isn’t.

November 18th, 2010 ~ by admin

AMD Bobcat splits the Atom to the Core

AMD recently released the Bobcat line of APUs (Accelerated Processing Units).  These are part of their new ‘Fusion’ line which integrates fairly simple, yet fast, CPU cores with Radeon graphics.  Several sites have benchmarked the Bobcat against the Intel Atom and the results are rather amazing. Engadget has a list of benchmarks as well.

AMD Bobcat Fusion APU - Zacate

The dual core 1.6GHz E-350 dissipates a mere 18W, and containing a Radeon 6310 500MHz 80 core GPU.  In various application tasks it handily beats the Intel Atom, and in video tests (gaming etc) its integrated Radeon GPU does remarkably well.  Its good to remember that the E350 (and others in its family) are designed for netbooks, tablets, etc.  Its good to see AMD taking a bite out of Intel’s Atom.  Its this sort of competition that drives technological advances, and makes processors out of date fast enough for CPU collectors to pick them up.

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Processor News

November 16th, 2010 ~ by admin

The History of the SMS300 and Signetics 8X300 Processors

On November 20th, 1969 a small company was formed in Mountain View, CA called Scientific Micro Systems Inc (SMS). They would join the dozens of post-Fairchild semiconductor startups in Silicon Valley.  Many of these we remember and know well, Intel, AMD, Zilog, MOS all are familiar and have designed processors that left a story, if not a legacy, in history. SMS has became a forgotten player in the roaring 70′s but they did introduce a few important things to the market. First 4096-bit bipolar Schottky ROM? SMS. First 256-bit bipolar Schottky RAM? Again SMS.

Signetics N8X300I - Early 1978

In January 1975 SMS announced prototypes of their own 8-bit microcontroller.  The SMS300 was a non-traditional design.  It focused on manipulation of signals.  It had 16-bit instructions, but operated on data 8 bits at a time.  It had very limited ways of accessing external memory (and no real way to access data memory).  It was designed as perhaps the first DSP.  It was fabricated in bipolar Schottky transistor technology.  This allowed it to be incredibly fast (albeit very power hungry) for its time.  Initial clock speeds were 6.66MHz and quickly ramped to 8MHz in 1976.  The SMS300 was initially not available for sale as a single chip.  It was sold as a single board computer called the SMS330 (as well as the SMS331 and SMS332) which contained everything needed to run the SMS300.  This was packaged like a oversized 64pin DIP (similar to how some of the BASIC Stamp microntrollers are today). These systems started at $370 and topped out at $1460.  In August of 1975 SMS ‘unbundled’ the SMS300 and began selling it (and its support chips) separately to those who wanted them.

Soviet Electronika KM1818VM01A 8X300 Clone

SMS did not make the SMS300 themselves, they contracted another Silicon Valley company to fabricate them.  Signetics, founded in 1961 by ex-Fairchild workers, was the first company founded to solely manufacture ICs rather then discrete transistors.  In 1975 Signetics was purchased by Philips but continued to operate under the Signetics trademark until 1993. Signetics made all of the SMS300 devices for SMS, and in 1976 Signetics became a second-source, and could sell the SMS300 under the Signetics brand.  By 1978 Signetics had purchased the rights to the SMS300 and renamed it the 8X300.  1977 or 1978 is generally when people think the 8X300 was develped. This is, unfortunately, due to forgotten history as by the time Signetcs bought the design, it had been on the market and in use for over 2 years.  Signetics continued to make the 8X300 into the early 1990s where it found wide use in disk controllers, telecommunications and other DSP like environments.  The N8X300 was also second sourced by AMD though I have yet to see one.  The 8X300 was also *second sourced* by the Soviets in the 80′s and early 90′s by the Electronika state electronics company in what is now Voronezh, Russia.  These of course were not licensed copies but they are however, still of interest.

Signetics N8X305N Early 1988

In around 1982 Signetics released the N8X305, the successor to the 8X300.  It was functionally compatible but increased the general purpose registers to 13 from 8 among some other instruction improvements that greatly improved upon the data handling deficiencies of the 8X300. Processor speed was also boosted to 10MHz. (200ns instruction time vs 250ns for the 8X300) The N8X305 also used the same pin-out as the 8X300 and the same 50pin DIP package (as well as adding a 68pin PLCC).  AMD second-sourced the 305 as the AM29X305.  The N8X305 continued to be made into the 1990s and saw use in many military applications as well.  Because of this Signetics/Philips could not simply terminate production.  They sold production rights to Lansdale Semiconductor Inc., who still offers the N8X305 to this day.

Signetics N8X401I - 1988

In 1986 Signetics again revised the design and released the N8X401.  This processor now had a full 32 instruction (including a RETURN instruction allowing the use of subroutines) The N8X401 also added an 8-bit data bus making data handling somewhat simpler but also increasing the package size to a 64 pin DIP.  Internal usable registers was increased to 16 and the instruction width was increased to 20-bits. Clock speed remained at 10MHz but it was now fabricated in ECL (Emitter Coupled Logic).  This among other improvements, helped to result in a 35% speed boost over the N8X305.

AMD AM29X305DC - N8X305 Second Source - 1985

The N8X401 was not a great success, primarily because of the competition at the time.  By 1986 8-bits, even for a DSP, was rapidly becoming out of date, especially with such purpose built DSPs such as the Motorola DSP56000 and the industry standard setting TI TMS320 series.

Thus is the story of one of the most odd processors to come out of the chip boom of the 1970′s (EA 9002, MMI 6701, AMI S2000 et al).  There are several other forgotten processors of that era which are also deserving of some remembrance.  In time we’ll try to document their history here at the CPU Shack as well.

Posted in:
Research

November 14th, 2010 ~ by admin

The next Generation of Application Processors

Current smartphones have an impressive amount of processing power, and its getting better yet.  Samsung’s new Orion chip has now been spotted running in the wild.  This is one of the first of the next generation of mobile Application Processors.

Nvidia Tegra

In 2008 a smart phone would have a ARM11 class processor running at around 500MHz.  The original iPhone, and the iPhone 3G used one made by Samsung running at 412MHz.  The first Android phone (the Google G1/HTC Dream) used a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A ARM11 processor.  The original Nvidia Tegra CPUs also fall into this class.  We’ll consider this the first generation of the TRUE smart phones as before the iPhone, smart phones were of limited use, and rarely had things likely fully working internet browsing etc.

Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon

The second generation of smart phones significantly increased in processing power.  These are the phones that we use today.  The majority of these run on some version of the ARM Cortex-A8 processor.  These processors are single core 600MHz-1.3GHz devices.  Perhaps the best known are the Apple A4 (Samsung Hummingbird), the Qualcomm Snapdragon (really a custom ARM core called the Scorpion similar to the Cortex-A8 crossed with a Cortex-A9), and the TI OMAP3 series.  Second generation Application Processors also have brought some pretty powerful graphics to phones.  These are integrated onto the same die as the Cortex-A8 and usually are PowerVR (Apple/Samsung and TI), Adreno (Qualcomm from ATI), or Mali (ARMs own GPU) based.

Samsung Orion ARM Cortex-A9 Dev Board

The smart phones of 2011 will begin using the third generation of Application Processors.  These are defined by being based on the ARM Cortex-A9, a faster and more efficient ARM core, as well as typically being a dual core (or better) device.  The TI OMAP4 series fits this description. Qualcomm will continue with the Snapdragon line, but bring it to a dual-core 1.5GHz chip. Apple is an unknown, but will likely up the speed of the A4, or add a core to it.  Samsung;’s Orion is a dual-core 1GHz A9 with a quad core Mali GPU.  It also packs 32KB of L1 cache per core and a full 1MB of L2 cache. Nvidia has the Tegra 250 already, which powers a handful of devices such as the Zune HD.  These processors will handily run full 1080p video, as well as drive external displays.  Your phone will soon be able to play movies on your TV.

ARM Cortex-A15 Eagle

What will the future bring?  ARM Cortex-A15, the Eagle, is a 2.5GHz quad core.  Hopefully it can run without depleting our batteries in an hour.

November 11th, 2010 ~ by admin

Grampa Mac Portable, meet the baby MacBook Air

Apple recently released the new (or rather updated) Macbook Air.  21 years ago they released their first laptop, the Mac Portable.  It was not the success that Apple hoped, but the later PowerBook was. Mr. McCarron recently posted a pic of these side by side.

Mac Portable and Macbook Air

Needless to say in 21 years Apple was improved their laptops a fair amount. However there are some similarities.  The Macintosh Portable shipped with no physical hard drive (a 20 or 40mb one was available as an option). It had 256k of onboard ROM (truly solid state storage).  If you wanted more, you were stuck with floppies. Its RAM was handled by 1MB (expandable to 9MB) of SRAM, which was faster (then DRAM), and allowed an actual sleep mode. Technologizer did a tear down of one last year for its 20th anniversary which shows the guts rather well.

MC68HC000FN16

The CPU was a 16MHz CMOS version of the Motorola MC68000 (MC68HC000FN12F).  The 12F is an ‘uprated’ 12MHz CPU that would run at 16MHz.  Later Motorola released it as a standard part (the FN16 pictured here)  The chipset was provide by VLSI who would go on to make the first ARM CPUs for the Newton line with Apple.

Just a few quick comparisons.  The entire memory of the Mac Portable would fit in the L1/L2 cache of the CPU on a Macbook Air.  The battery for the portable? 2.7lbs, heavier then the entire Air.

Mac Portable Macbook Air (2010)
Processor 68HC000 @16MHz Core 2 Duo @ 1.6GHz
L1/L2 Cache 0/0 128K/3MB
RAM 1MB-9MB 4GB
Storage 256K (ROM) + Floppy 128GB SSD
Screen 10″ Monochrome 11.6″ Color
Weight 16lbs 2.3lbs

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Just For Fun