In case you haven’t noticed, multi-core processing is happening. We’ve already covered multi-core aspects that relate both to servers and clients. For clients, I’ve previously focused on video communications, but there is another aspect on the client side that is important to note – for clients, multi-core is a game of diversification, not only multiplication.
Multi-core, as previously discussed and as promoted today to the mass market, is all about multiplication. Take a general purpose CPU and multiply it several times, package it in a single silicon that looks and functions as a single unit for the operating system above and you get a processor that is many times more stronger than previous generations. But there is another way to “multiply” the core – diversifying, meaning combining different cores with different functions and packaging them on the same silicon.If you look at mobile handset chips today – they are definitely all about diversifying. Up until recently, handsets had multiple chips – an application chip, an RF/baseband chip and sometimes a Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) that handled graphics for the handset. Most mobile chipset vendors are playing a new tune today – they provide chipsets that have multiple cores, each handling different aspects of the phone functionality.
Take, for example, the BlackBerry Bold. This Smartphone uses a Marvell PXA930 processor (code named “Tavor”). The Tavor chip is a triple-core processor: an XScale handling the application, a DSP doing the audio side and an ARM running the modem/baseband stacks. Moving forward, additional cores focusing on visualization and video coding are planned. The best example of this to date is NVIDIA’s APX 2500, which is an ARM host processor with a GPU for video acceleration.
This diversification is not only focused on adding more cores, but also in adding dedicated accelerators for specific purposes: 2D and 3D graphics (anyone said iPhone?), video encoding, decoding and encryption, etc. These accelerators can either be internal or external to the silicon package which will affect the cost, complexity performance and I/O usage.
This massive move to multi-core technology in mobile handsets is now starting to spread elsewhere as well. For example AMD in their effort to package ATI’s GPU with their CPU and Intel doing HD decoding in hardware to package with their CPUs. We will definitely see more of this happening in other consumer electronics markets, such as set-top boxes and consumer goods as well.