UK firm decloaks “software defined silicon”

July 10, 2007 – XMOS Semiconductor says it plans to roll out a new type of programmable semiconductor technology, “software defined silicon,” which it says gives designers the unit cost advantages of SoCs with the flexibility of FPGAs.

SDS devices, based on arrays of processors, would allow system functions normally implemented in hardware to be defined in software. Existing SoC and FPGA solutions don’t offer the right combination of flexibility and cost, noted James Foster, XMOS Semiconductor CEO (and former CEO of Oxford Semiconductor), in a statement. Company CTO David May added that the cost of an ASIC NRE is too risky and expensive except for extremely high volumes, and ASSP designs are limited due to rigidity. Further, “FPGA’s high complexity in programming and cost of silicon prohibits their use in high-volume consumer electronics,” he noted.

To address these problems, the startup (founded in July 2005) has developed an event driven, multi-threaded processor engine, called “XCore,” which incorporates an integrated pin control coupled with intercore communication link (“XLink”) to allow complete systems, including interfaces, to be implemented in software, the company explained.

XMOS is keeping much of the technology explanation under wraps for a planned debut in 1Q08, including chips, software IP and dev tools, and a first product.


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