Freescale’s QorIQ AMP series illustrates growing demand on the control and data plane

By Chris Edwards |  No Comments  |  Posted: July 14, 2011
Topics/Categories: Embedded - Architecture & Design  |  Tags: , , , ,  | Organizations:

The QorIQ AMP (Advanced Multi-Processing) family was unveiled by Freescale Semiconductor in June and is an aggressive play for the control plane market. As such it is both innovative in its own right and also shows what kind of performance communications designers must deliver to meet the overall system demands of today’s customers.

At its Freescale Technology Forum, the company placed great emphasis on forecasts from Morgan Stanley that are broadly representative of the challenges ahead. Here are some of the investment bank’s main findings.

  1. Within a decade, more than half of the world’s population will access the Internet via some kind of mobile device (the potentially explosive growth in the tablet computing market is important here).
  2. By 2015, IP traffic from wireless devices will surpass that from wireline devices, with wireless now growing at a 4X faster rate (Figure 1).
  3. By the same time, there will be 10 billion devices connected to the Internet overall, against a forecast global population of 7.2 billion (that’s 1.4 devices per person ahead of the anticipated growth in, for example, machine-to-machine communication).
  4. About two-thirds of IP traffic by 2015 will be video.

Figure 1. Mobile Internet traffic in exabytes per month

In this context, Freescale CEO Rich Beyer sees the immediate demand for chip vendors and their system customers to meet an averageconnection speed of 2.2Mbit/s within the timescales envisaged by Morgan Stanley. That will require an order of magnitude increase at a rate ahead of Moore’s Law.

For wireless specifically, shifting usage models are creating new challenges. As noted, tablets are set to be one of the main sources of rising network demand. Although these are perceived as ‘mobile’ devices, Freescale believes that consumers will primarily use their tablets at home, with an expectation of performance that matches that from wireline devices.

The company does have some skin in this game—it is targeting its tablet processors at the ‘white box’ market rather than the OEM-led one that will require wireless baseband (a market Freescale exited several years ago). Nevertheless, its view is supported by research from the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association.

“Many [people] use the product at home or at a place where they have a static Wi-Fi connection. Few use them at work or traveling,” said Shawn DuBravac, the CEA’s chief economist, when presenting the association’s latest Mid-Year Forecast.

How QorIQ AMP fits into the rapidly changing landscape
From a performance point of view, the launch of the AMP device, the 12-core T4240, boasts an overall 4X performance boost over its immediate predecessor, the 8-core P4080. Features that help deliver this (another view is shown in Figure 2) include:

  • a new 64-bit e6500 core, which provides a 2X boost in itself;
  • manufacturing on a 28nm process;
  • multithreading;
  • boosting frequencies to 2.5GHz;
  • advanced acceleration;
  • high bandwidth data processing and algorithmic-intensive computation using the AltiVec instruction set;
  • and virtualization to offer a potential 24 virtual cores from the 12 hardware cores on the device.
Figure 2. QorIQ AMP at a glance

Figure 2. QorIQ AMP at a glance

An important note regarding AltiVec is that some users have previously found the ISA difficult to use. AMP marks its relaunch in a form that allows a far easier definition of parameters.

In more general terms, AMP also reflects greater familiarity and comfort with both multicore and multithreading in the control plane market, as well as the increasing maturity of software that can take advantage of these techniques. However, two other important factors have contributed to forming Freescale’s strategy for the AMP family.

Even for the control and data plane segments, power consumption is today an important consideration. Power management for the AMP family takes an integrated cascading approach across multiple domains. Visibility here is key and one feature allows for the optimization of the load, so that where, for example, you might have a workload that sees all 24 virtual cores being operated inefficiently at 10% of capacity, this can be dynamically changed to loading 2.4 cores at 100%.
The AMP family will also be backward compatible with existing Freescale QorIQ devices and, with the performance overhead built into each new generation, scalable to reflect not only traffic volumes but also new standards.

Then for software, Freescale has extended its Code Warrior suite for debug as well as other forms of support and has also partnered with other leading vendors. For example, Mentor Graphics has already announced full support for AMP within its Embedded Linux platform.
These partnerships should allow developers to seamlessly progress from prototype to reference hardware to custom-design within their methodology of choice.

Conclusion
AMP is Freescale’s second major addition to the QorIQ range this year. At the Mobile World Congress, it announced the Converge family, aimed at extending its presence in the basestation market from traditional large-scale macro and metro products into smaller, often home-based femto and pico boxes. In itself, this launch reflected the growth in data traffic volumes.

AMP addresses the same issue closer to the heart of the network, and as such the two product roadmaps will advance in parallel. The new family is also representative of the need to match an ecosystem to the challenges ahead, the demands of performance, power and scalability matched by hardware, software and partnership. However, it further serves to underline the rate at which communications is now placing demands on system vendors that are indeed racing beyond the pace once set by Moore’s Law.

Links:
Videos introducing QoiIQ AMP

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