Event-driven processors aim for mass market

25 September 2009

The steadily increasing complexity of processor architectures has led to the rise of event-driven processing.

Having previously seen success in interface, DSP and control applications with their G Family, XMOS launched its 2nd generation of event-driven processors aimed at the volume electronics market. The L Family brings these processors to the mass market and volume applications, James Foster, CEO claims the technology is so accessible, you can "prototype and develop at the bottom of your garden." The L1 is single core and hits the sub-$5 price point for 10K units.

At the moment, the electronics market is dominated by ASSP's and ASIC's but because customers are looking to differentiate themselves in the current market by reducing their time-to-market, XMOS believes there is a market opportunity for a programmable solution. "The market is predisposed to look for alternatives, customers are actively looking for ways to innovate and do it fast. That is unique about our technology, customers can go from concept to product very very quickly," said Foster. However, XMOS is quick to point out they are not competing with FPGA products. "We are here to deliver reprogrammable technology to the mass market," added Foster. Expanding on this, David May, CTO and co-founder, commented: "FPGA is LUT based and XMOS is processor based. They are fundamentally different places in industry and significantly different in terms of the profile of applications we handle."

The XS1-L1 is a 400 MHz event-driven processor based on a 65 nm process from TSMC. XMOS claims the processor is 'ideal for interface, DSP, and control applications including displays, ethernet and USB.' Each XCore contains a 32-bit processor, operates up to 400 MIPS and up to eight concurrent, deterministic real-time tasks. Depending on the activity, the active mode power consumption can be between 15-200 mW, but standby and sleep mode only consume 15 mW and 500 μW respectively. Additionally, 'the event-driven architecture, together with XMOS' programming tools enables XCores to switch automatically between standby and active saving up to 90% of energy in low duty-cycle application.' This event-based energy conservation is based on minimising energy consumption by ensuring optimal frequency selection for active mode and eliminating dynamic power consumption for the standby mode. "The device will look at which threads are waiting at the scheduler to be executed, when all threads are paused waiting for an external event the device stops the clock and is in standby, when it goes active the clock speed goes up and the thread scheduler makes the decision for the speed," explained May. In sleep mode, the XS1-L1 can be completely powered down until wakeup is initiated from an external signal or internal interval counter. The XS1-L1 also comes equipped with 64 KBytes of single-cycle SRAM for code and data storage. The ability to build complete systems on the XMOS architecture using C, C++ or the XC language will be of interest to embedded software developers.

XMOS L-family devices are supported by software development tools, development kits and reference designs. The software development tools are available free to download on the XMOS website. Their library of open-source code does not require payments or license fees, Foster commented: “we only ask that if you find a bug, you have to let us know.”

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