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A Guide to Embedded Processors

Ninth Edition

Published December 2015

Authors: Jag Bolaria and Tom R. Halfhill

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"A Guide to Embedded Processors" provides an in-depth look at 32- and 64-bit high-speed embedded processors with one to four CPU cores. This completely revised report from The Linley Group contains nearly 300 pages of information on Altera, AMD, AppliedMicro, Broadcom (Avago), Cavium, Freescale (NXP), Intel (including Axxia), Marvell, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Xilinx.

The report focuses on general-purpose RISC and x86 processors that have one to four CPU cores running at 600MHz or more, excluding specialized architectures (e.g. DSPs, NPUs). Note: some previous editions of this report covered all processors in this category, but this one focuses on chips with four or fewer CPU cores. We cover 32- and 64-bit embedded processors with four or more cores in another report, “A Guide to Multicore Processors.”

“A Guide to Embedded Processors” covers Altera’s SoC FPGA processors (agreed to be acquired by Intel); Freescale’s QorIQ processors (agreed to be acquired by NXP); AppliedMicro’s Helix-1 and Helix-2 ARMv8-compatible processors; AMD’s Embedded R-Series processors and G-Series Processors; Intel’s embedded Atom, and former LSI Axxia processors; Cavium’s Octeon III processors; Broadcom’s XLP-II and StrataGX processors (agreed to be acquired by Avago); Marvell’s Armada and MoChi processors, Texas Instruments’ Sitara processors; and other products.

This handy guide, packed with valuable information, brings you up-to-date on the newest developments in this important market and gives you the analysis you need to help choose a supplier or partner in this field. In addition to networking, the report discusses processors that can be used in high-end consumer applications and printers. It also provides market share and market size data for the embedded segments covered.

“A Guide to Embedded Processors” begins with tutorials on the key technologies implemented by these products, background on the embedded market, and a discussion of the newest technology and market trends. Following these introductory chapters, the report delivers thorough coverage of all announced products in this area. For each major vendor, the report examines the performance, features, and architecture of each product, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in a consistent, easy-to-compare fashion. The report concludes with our own comparisons of these products and conclusions about which will fare best.

What's New in This Edition

Updates to the Ninth Edition of "A Guide to Embedded Processors"

"A Guide to Embedded Processors" has been updated to incorporate new announcements made since the publication of the previous edition.

  • Freescale has introduced new QorIQ LS1-series processors with ARM CPU cores.
  • Intel has acquired LSI’s Axxia processors, is now acquiring Altera, and has introduced new x86-based embedded processors manufactured with 22nm and 14nm FinFET technology.
  • Cavium has completed its Octeon III family of embedded processors and is looking forward to ARM-compatible ThunderX processors.
  • Texas Instruments has new ARM-based Sitara processors with integrated DSPs.
  • Xilinx has new FPGAs with embedded ARM Cortex-A9 cores.
  • Broadcom is being acquired by Avago and has introduced new ARM-based StrataGX processors with Ethernet switching.
  • Marvell has new and the first 64bit Armada processors using its modular chip (MoChi) architecture as well as the AP806 MoChi processor using ARM Cortex-A53 and A72, respectively. AMD has introduced new Embedded R-Series processors with the latest Excavator CPU cores and integrated south-bridge logic.
  • 2014-2017 market-size and vendor-share data
  • Updated market forecast through 2017

The simplest definition of embedded processor is a microprocessor for systems other than computers. This report focuses on general-purpose processors with one to four CPUs running at 800MHz or greater. Primary applications include communications and “PC-like” uses. At one end of the scale, communications includes low-cost, low-power systems for home networking, such as Wi-Fi routers. At the other end, it includes control-plane processors for service-provider routers. PC-like uses also span a wide gamut, comprising industrial controls, interactive kiosks, digital signs, casino games, and network-attached storage (NAS). This report analyzes the products, capabilities, and strategies of each vendor to determine which offerings are best suited to each embedded application and which vendors are most likely to succeed. We have researched the offerings from major vendors to gather in one place the information designers need to shorten the list. Among our conclusions are the following:

  • Intel is the leading supplier of embedded processors, having a 41% market share. Although most of its embedded revenue comes from selling processors for PC-like systems, the company has made great strides in strengthening its portfolio for communications. Intel’s newest CPU, Skylake, appears in embedded Core, Pentium, Celeron, and Xeon E3v5 processors. Atom SoCs offer better integration, but the company has yet to upgrade this family to its newest CPU.
  • Freescale is the largest supplier of embedded processors for communications. It’s currently managing a transition from its QorIQ T-series chips (Power Architecture) to its LS series chips (ARM). Freescale’s challenge is to manage this transition without losing customers or market share. The by NXP is a major consolidation that will strengthen the merged company’s position.
  • Broadcom targets high-performance embedded applications with the 32-bit ARM-based StrataGX and MIPS64-compatible XLP I/II product lines. In 2014, StrataGX led competitors in revenue growth, but the higher-end XLP business contracted. In 2016, Broadcom will begin moving the high-end line from the MIPS64 architecture to new ARMv8-compatible processors. The company’s pending acquisition by Avago could alter the product roadmap.
  • In 2015, AMD launched new Embedded R-Series and G-Series SoCs, which integrate the south-bridge functions, upgrade the CPU core, and match favorably against Intel’s Atom SoCs. Although they still fall short of Intel’s Skylake in performance, they offer superior graphics at a lower price. In 2013, AMD embarked on a dual-architecture strategy by developing ARM-based processors, but recently, the company appears to be shifting resources back to the x86 architecture.
  • Cavium has completed its Octeon III family, including processors that have one to four CPU cores, enabling the company to win more low-end designs that sometimes eluded the earlier Octeon II family. Like most other vendors, Cavium is shifting future investment to ARM-based processors, starting with high-end members of the new ThunderX line.
  • Marvell’s new MoChi (Modular Chip) family expands its Armada portfolio to the 64-bit ARMv8 architecture while adding networking accelerators. This strategy should expand the company’s target market and significantly increase its embedded-processor revenue after MoChi processors reach production, which it expects in 4Q16.
  • AppliedMicro was the first vendor to introduce ARMv8-compatible processors and is already rolling out its second-generation designs. The packet-processing acceleration inherited from its older PowerPC products makes the company’s Helix embedded processors attractive for networking applications.
  • Texas Instruments continues to expand its ARM-based Sitara family and is distinguishing itself from other ARM vendors by adding powerful DSP cores, real-time controller cores, and other features optimized for industrial controls, medical instrumentation, and military/aerospace systems.
  • Xilinx and Altera compete in the fast-growing category of FPGA-integrated processors. By being first to market, the Zynq family from Xilinx took the lead. Altera countered with its FPGA SoCs and added unique features. Both companies are now bringing to market their second-generation processors. Although Xilinx again has the early lead, Intel’s acquisition of Altera could tilt the technology balance toward the latter for future generations beyond the 14nm node.
  • Qualcomm made a good entry into communications, but it has yet to follow up with newer designs.

Two major disruptions will characterize the next few years. First is the transition to ARM from other CPU architectures. Second is industry consolidation as vendors look to increase profitability and expand their markets. During these transitions, system companies must select the right vendor and either redesign systems around a different processor or lose market share.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1. Processor Technology
Processor Basics
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
MMUs and TLBs
Bus Bandwidth
CPU Microarchitecture
Scalar and Superscalar
Instruction Reordering
Pipelining and Penalties
Branch Prediction
Multicore Processors
Main Memory
DRAM Basics
DDR Versions
Memory Subsystems
I/O and Network Interfaces
Ethernet Interfaces
PCI and PCI Express
2. Embedded Applications
Networking and Communications Equipment
Control Plane vs. Data Plane
Control-Plane Processing
Data-Plane Applications
Networked Storage and RAID Controllers
Broadband Infrastructure
Cellular Base Stations
Consumer Electronics
Set-Top Boxes
Home Networking
IP Phones
IP Cameras
High-Speed Printers
PC-Like Applications
Industrial Control, Medical, and Military
3. Standard Instruction Sets
Architecture Comparison
Market Positions
x86 Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Modern Extensions
ARM Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Later Extensions
ARMv8 Architecture
MIPS Instruction Set
Initial Instruction Set
Later Extensions
PowerPC Instruction Set
Instruction Set
4. High-Speed Processors
What Is a High-Speed Embedded Processor?
What Is Not a High-Speed Embedded Processor
Common Characteristics
Standalone vs. Integrated Processors
Encryption Engines
RAID and Other Storage Engines
Packet-Processing Accelerators
CPU Benchmarks
Security Performance
5. Technology and Market Trends
Technology Trends
Trend to ARM
Integration Trends
CPU Complexity Tradeoffs
Multicore Processors
Memory Access
Managing Power
Market Overview
Market Size by Vendor
Market Share by Application
Revenue Market Share by Instruction-Set Architecture
Market Forecast
6. AMD
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Opteron 4300 Processors
Embedded R-Series Processors
Embedded G-Series Processors
Internal Architecture
Excavator CPU Core
Puma/Jaguar+ CPU Core
Embedded R-Series Processors
System Design
Embedded R-Series Processors
Embedded G-Series Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
7. AppliedMicro
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Helix 2 Processors
Internal Architecture
System Design
Product Roadmap
8. Broadcom
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
XLP II Processors
XLP II Family: XLP1xx Processors
XLP II Family: XLP2xx Processors
StrataGX Processors
Internal Architecture
XLP II Processors
StrataGX Processors
System Design
XLP II Processors
StrataGX Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9. Cavium
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Octeon III Processors
Internal Architecture
Octeon III Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
10. Freescale (NXP)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
QorIQ T-Series Processors
QorIQ T1 Processors
QorIQ T2 Processors
QorIQ LS-Series Processors
QorIQ LS1 32-Bit Processors
QorIQ LS1 64-Bit Processors
Internal Architecture
Power e5500 CPU
Power e6500 CPU
ARM Cortex CPUs
Security Engines
Quicc Engine
QorIQ Packet-Processing Acceleration
Layerscape Chip Architecture
System Design
System Interfaces
Application Examples
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
11. Intel
Company Background
Product Overview
Key Features and Performance
Xeon Processors
Core Processors
Atom Processors
Internal Architecture
Skylake CPU
Skylake Instructions
Skylake GPU
Atom CPU
System Design
High-Performance Processors
Atom-Based Systems
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
High-Performance Processors
12. Marvell
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Armada Processors
MoChi-Based Armada Processors
Internal Architecture
Armada 3xx
Armada 3700
MoChi AP806 Module
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
13. Texas Instruments
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Sitara AM437x Processors
Sitara AM57x Processors
Keystone II Sitara and C6000 DSP Processors
Internal Architecture
ARM Cortex-A15 Core
TI C66x DSP Core
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
14. Other Vendors
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Product Roadmap
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Via Technologies
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Product Roadmap
Development Tools
15. Processor Comparisons
Sub-3W Processors for Networking
3–6W Processors for Networking
6–15W Processors for Networking
6–12W Processors With Graphics
15–55W Processors for Networking
25–40W Processors for PC-Like Platforms
Processors With Programmable Logic
FPGAs With 32-Bit Processors
FPGAs With 64-Bit Processors
16. Conclusions
Market Trends
Embedded-Processor Applications
Market Environment
Technology Trends
Vendor Outlook
Other Processor Vendors
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1-1. Basic processor design.
Figure 1-2. Simple superscalar processor design.
Figure 1-3. CPU pipelining examples.
Figure 1-4. Generic multicore processor.
Figure 1-5. Interleaved tasks on a multithreaded CPU.
Figure 1-6. DRAM evolution.
Figure 2-1. The control plane and the data plane.
Figure 4-1. Standalone and integrated general-purpose processors.
Figure 4-2. Typical curve of IPSec performance versus packet size.
Figure 5-1. Revenue share of top eight vendors of embedded microprocessors, 2013-2014.
Figure 5-2. Worldwide revenue market share of the top six vendors of embedded processors for communications, 2013–2014.
Figure 5-3. Worldwide revenue market share of the top six vendors of embedded processors for storage, 2013–2014.
Figure 5-4. Worldwide revenue market share of the top three vendors of embedded processors for other applications, 2013–2014.
Figure 5-5. Revenue share of embedded processors by instruction set.
Figure 5-6. Revenue of embedded processors by application, 2014-2019.
Figure 5-7. Industry revenue of embedded microprocessors by communication segments, 2014-2019.
Figure 6-1. Block diagram of AMD Excavator CPU.
Figure 6-2. Quad-core compute unit based on Jaguar.
Figure 6-3. Block diagram of Jaguar microarchitecture.
Figure 6-4. Block diagram of AMD Embedded R Series SoC.
Figure 6-5. Block diagram of AMD Embedded G Series SoC.
Figure 6-6. AMD R Series evaluation platform.
Figure 7-1. Block diagram of AppliedMicro Potenza CPU.
Figure 7-2. Block diagram of AppliedMicro Helix 2 processor.
Figure 7-3. Block diagram of a gateway based on AppliedMicro Helix 2.
Figure 8-1. Broadcom XLP II family.
Figure 8-2. Broadcom StrataGX family.
Figure 8-3. Block diagram of Broadcom FC4400 CPU core.
Figure 8-4. Block diagram of Broadcom XLP208 (XLP II family) processor.
Figure 8-5. Block diagram of Broadcom StrataGX BCM58535 processor.
Figure 8-6. Switch card with Broadcom XLP208 control-plane processor.
Figure 9-1. Cavium Octeon III family.
Figure 9-2. Block diagram of Cavium Octeon III CN71xx.
Figure 9-3. Integrated network appliance based on Cavium Octeon III.
Figure 10-1. Freescale QorIQ T-series processors for communications.
Figure 10-2. Freescale QorIQ LS processors for communications.
Figure 10-3. Block diagram of Freescale Power e6500 microarchitecture.
Figure 10-4. Block diagram of Freescale QorIQ T2080.
Figure 10-5. Multifunction printer based on Freescale QorIQ LS1021A.
Figure 10-6. Avnet AgateRP reference platform for IoT gateways.
Figure 11-1. Schedule for Intel’s embedded products.
Figure 11-2. Simplified Skylake microarchitecture.
Figure 11-3. Block diagram of Skylake system architecture.
Figure 11-4. Block diagram of Silvermont CPU microarchitecture.
Figure 11-5. Block diagram of Silvermont CPU system architecture.
Figure 11-6. Block diagram of Atom Rangeley platform.
Figure 12-1. Block diagram of Armada 385.
Figure 12-2. Block diagram of Marvell AP806 for 10Gbps networking.
Figure 12-3. Wi-Fi router using Marvell Armada 385 processor.
Figure 12-4. Armada A3700 in a consumer NAS box.
Figure 13-1. Block diagram of Texas Instruments C66x core.
Figure 13-2. System diagram of a Sitara-based portable data terminal.
Table 2-1. Single-board-computer standards.
Table 5-1. Revenue of the top eight vendors of embedded microprocessors.
Table 5-2. Worldwide revenue of the top six vendors of embedded processors for communications.
Table 5-3. Worldwide revenue of the top six vendors of embedded processors for storage.
Table 5-4. Worldwide revenue of the top three vendors of embedded processors for other applications.
Table 5-5. Revenue of embedded processors by application, 2014–2019.
Table 5-6. Industry revenue of embedded microprocessors by communication segments, 2014–2019.
Table 6-1. Key parameters for AMD embedded Opteron 4300 processors.
Table 6-2. Key parameters for AMD R Series processors.
Table 6-3. Key parameters for AMD Embedded G Series processors.
Table 7-1. Key parameters for AppliedMicro Helix 2 processors.
Table 8-1. Key parameters for Broadcom XLP100-series processors.
Table 8-2. Key parameters for Broadcom XLP200-series processors.
Table 8-3. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataGX BCM530xx processors.
Table 8-4. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataGX BCM585xx and 586xx.
Table 8-5. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataGX BCM583xx processors.
Table 9-1. Key parameters for Cavium Octeon III CN70xx and CN71xx.
Table 10-1. Key parameters for QorIQ T1020, T1022, T1040, and T1042.
Table 10-2. Key parameters for QorIQ T1013, T1023, T1014, and T1024.
Table 10-3. Key parameters for QorIQ T2 processors.
Table 10-4. Key parameters for Freescale QorIQ LS1 32-bit processors.
Table 10-5. Key parameters for Freescale QorIQ LS1 64-bit processors.
Table 10-6. SEC 5.3 security-engine performance.
Table 11-1. Intel code-names and product numbers.
Table 11-2. Intel embedded processors with four or fewer CPUs.
Table 11-3. Key parameters for embedded Intel Xeon E3v5 and Pentium.
Table 11-4. Selected Intel Core embedded processors.
Table 11-5. Key parameters for Intel Atom E38xx, Atom C2xxx, and Pentium.
Table 11-6. Comparison of Intel CPU-microarchitecture resources.
Table 11-7. Chipsets for Xeon and Core processors.
Table 12-1. Key parameters for Marvell Armada processors.
Table 12-2. Armada processors based on the AP806 MoChi interface.
Table 13-1. Key parameters for Texas Instruments Sitara AM437x.
Table 13-2. Key parameters for Texas Instruments Sitara AM57x.
Table 13-3. Key parameters for Texas Instruments KeyStone II.
Table 14-1. Embedded-processor suppliers and their products.
Table 14-2. Key parameters for low-end and midrange Altera SoC FPGAs.
Table 14-3. Key parameters for higher-end Altera SoC FPGAs.
Table 14-4. Key parameters for Qualcomm Atheros IPQ806x processors.
Table 14-5. Key parameters for Xilinx Kintex-series Zynq-7000 APSoCs.
Table 14-6. Key parameters for Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC.
Table 15-1. Comparison of selected sub-3W processors.
Table 15-2. Comparison of selected 3–6W processors.
Table 15-3. Comparison of selected 6–15W processors for networking.
Table 15-4. Comparison of selected 6–12W processors with graphics.
Table 15-5. Comparison of selected 15–55W processors for networking.
Table 15-6. Comparison of AMD R-421BD and Intel Core i3-6100TE.
Table 15-7. Comparison of 32-bit processors with programmable logic.
Table 15-8. Comparison of 64-bit processors with programmable logic.


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