Configurable Thoughts


When 8-Bits Is Not Enough

There comes a time in every SoC designer’s life that the marketing guys start complaining that they are losing sockets to the competition, because the chip that you designed no longer has enough performance. Nothing lasts forever and this is especially true with electronics. What is state-of-the-art today is destined to be your Momma’s electronics, and sooner than you think. The performance demands for electronic applications increase at a constant rate. This is due to the combination of more stuff being added to applications over time, the convergence of functions from multiple devices into one device and the natural tendency that we all have to be less tolerant of slow functionality the longer we use a product. Oh yes, and the constant demand by marketing that engineering increase performance because they can’t think of anything else to do to beat the competition.

For 30 years 8-bit processors have been the workhorses of embedded applications. You no doubt interact with dozens of 8-bitters daily and probably don’t even know it. They are all around us but as the electronics in our world becomes more sophisticated 8-bit processors are becoming less and less able to keep up. To be sure, there will be 8-bitters used for many years – there are after all a few 4-bit processors that are still being used in some applications. But the time for 8-bit processors is passing as new 32-bit processors shrink to sizes that are comparable while offering an order of magnitude more performance, and advanced features that 8-bitters can only dream of.

Synopsys’ ARC EM family has been developed in part to hasten the exit of 8-bit processors. Starting at fewer than 10K gates the EM family is tiny, but at 1.52 DMIPS/MHz and clock speeds above 900MHz (28nm) it offers performance that can only be obtained from a modern 32-bit architecture. Even better while increasing performance the EM family processors can reducing power consumption, because they can do a lot more work per clock so they can be put to sleep for longer periods or slowed way down. They also have the flexibility to be configured to fit into the slot that the 8-bit processor is vacating. The memory configuration of the EM family is highly malleable – you can mix different types of memories and memories that are running at different speeds. The EM processors are also highly configurable so you can tailor them specifically for the instance on your SOC.

So, with all of the things that you have to worry about why are you still trying to make do with that old 8-bitter? Make your life easy and drop a 32-bit processor in that socket. You will be happy with the result and you will love not having to listen to the marketing guys complain about losing sockets because of the performance of your design.