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Multicore platform handles H.264, 3G modems easily

Posted: 17 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CoolEngine  modem  3G  H.264  Wi-Fi 

IP provider 3Plus1 today unveiled its first offerings, the CoolEngine-1010 and CoolEngine-1020. The CoolEngine is a multicore platform for modems and A/V codecs in mobile devices. 3Plus1 says the platform delivers unprecedented performance, power and price for a programmable platform. For example, 3Plus1 says the CoolEngine-1010 can do H.264 Baseline D1 decoding at 180MHz with a silicon area of 1.01mm² in 65nm.

The heart of the CoolEngines (Figure 1), is the CoolW core. The CoolW is a single-stream, multiple-operations per cycle processor. The CoolEngine-1010 has only one CoolW and can handle a wide range of applications including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, GSM/GPRS/Edge, GPS, MPEG-2/4, H.264, MP3 and JPEG2000. The CoolEngine-1020 has two CoolWs and can handle any two of these applications simultaneously. For example, the CoolEngine-1020 can run an H.264 D1 decoder and a 3G modem simultaneously.

Unlike other processors targeting multi-mode modems and codecs, the CoolW doesn't have interrupts or support an RTOS. Instead, the processor relies on a simple non-interlocking pipeline and quasi-static scheduling. The core also eschews multithreading or hyperthreading. In 3Plus1's analysis, threads are wasteful of energy and resources, and quasi-static scheduling allows it to achieve high utilisation of the CoolW's functional units. These design decisions reflect 3Plus1's narrow focus on codecs and modems.


Figure 1: High-level diagram of the CoolEngine-1010 and CoolEngine-1020 cores.
(Click to view teardown.)

The CoolEngines are programmed in a mix of C and assembly, and have a programming model similar to that of a traditional DSP. To help programmers get started, the company provides a library of optimised functions for modem and codec applications.

3Plus1 will face stiff competition from.established IP vendors such as ARC and Tensilica. It will also face competition from other startups such as Sandbridge, Icera, and Coresonic. 3Plus1 appears to have an advantage in terms of performance, power, and area. However, some competing solutions may be more complete. ARC and Tensillica, for example, offer a range of off-the-shelf codecs, whereas 3Plus1 customers must port their IP to a new core. The 3Plus1 have a clearer advantage in terms of flexibility. The CoolEngine's ability to handle H.264 and 3G modems with equal ease is extremely unusual, and is sure to be a major selling point for 3Plus1.

The CoolEngine-1010 and CoolEngine-1020 are available now as synthesisable soft cores. For more information, contact 3Plus1.

- Seth Benton, Kenton Williston
DSP DesignLine

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