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XMOS Xcore.ai Adds Vector Unit

May 5, 2020

Author: Linley Gwennap

XMOS has extended its microcontroller architecture to incorporate a vector unit that generates up to 51 billion operations per seconds (GOPS). The new Xcore.ai chip retains the company’s flexible I/O and DSP capability, allowing it to serve as the main processor in a variety of embedded systems. The best part is the price: it sells for as little as $1 in high volume. XMOS recently received first silicon and expects production late this year.

The chip features two CPUs that implement the latest version of the company’s Xcore architecture. Each runs at 800MHz and, as in previous versions, handles up to eight threads. The new 256-bit vector unit operates on a variety of popular AI data types, including 8-bit integers and binary values. Each core has 512KB of SRAM and 64 bits of flexible I/O, as Figure 1 shows. The chip optionally connects to LPDDR DRAM and provides USB2.0 and MIPI interfaces.

Xcore.ai’s main target is intelligent IoT devices for smart-home and industrial deployment. At about 500mW (typical), it’s best suited to line-powered and frequently tethered devices. For example, a smart speaker could use one CPU to handle far-field-voice processing and the other to handle speech recognition, employing the core’s DSP extensions in the former case and the neural-network acceleration in the latter. The chip’s flexible I/O makes it an ideal SoC, letting it connect to almost any low-speed serial or parallel device, including digital microphones and cameras.

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