Archive for June, 2014

Server system-on-chips pack up to 48 64-bit ARM cores

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Targeting secure cloud servers, storage servers, compute servers, and data-plane applications, the ThunderX series of multicore SoCs deliver power-efficient computing solutions

Dave Bursky
Semiconductor Technology Editor

Multicore processors based on x86 cores are a very common choice for servers and for handling packets in data-networking applications. Although x86-based servers command most of the IT market, other processors such as MIPS and PowerPC are key players in the deeply embedded applications such as network switches and routers, handling both data plane and control plane functions. ARM processors have started to make inroads in the server market, and with the release of the A57 64-bit core, the ARM processors are poised to make significant inroads into all the applications that are currently employing the x86, MIPS, and PowerPC cores.

One example of that opportunity takes aim at low-power servers and secure network communications — the just-released ThunderX series of multicore processors from Cavium. This family includes versions containing from 8 to 48 customized ARM 64-bit processor cores that can operate at up to 2.5 GHz. There will actually be four families of processors in the ThunderX series–each optimized for a different type of workload. The ThunderX_SC is targeted at security applications, the ThunderX_ST for storage control and management, the ThunderX_NT for networking systems, and the ThunderX_CP for computational applications.

Implemented in a low-power 28-nm process, the basic ThunderX architecture brings together up to 48 full custom 64-bit processor cores that are fully compliant with the ARMv8 architecture specification and ARM’s Server Base System Architecture (SBSA). Included on each multi-core chip are a cache subsystem (each processor has level 1 instruction and data caches, and all processors share an L2 cache), Ethernet interfaces capable of 10/40/100 Gbit/s data rates, multiple PCIe gen3 and SATA v3 interfaces, up to four DDR3/4 memory controllers, additional I/O ports, and various accelerators depending on the market segment the processor is optimized to tackle (see the figure).

Members of the ThunderX family from Cavium contain up to 48 ARM64 processor cores, application-specific hardware accelerators, high-speed Ethernet ports, both PCIe gen3 and SATA v3 ports and many other system support features to support Compute, Storage, Networking, and Secure Computing applications.






For example, the ThunderX_SC family is optimized for Secure Web frontend, security appliances and Cloud RAN type workloads. It includes specialized hardware accelerators consisting of Cavium’s 4th generation NITROX and TurboDPI technology with acceleration for IPSec, SSL, Anti-virus, Anti-malware, firewall and DPI. The NITROX engine can deliver 50 Mbps to 40Gbps of encryption bandwidth with 1K to 200K RSA/DH operations per second. Additionally, the TurboDPI block employs the company’s Uniscan technology that simultaneously blocks malicious or inappropriate URLs, identifies hundreds of widely used protocols and applications, helps block thousands of different intrusion attempts and locates over a hundred thousand varieties of virus and malware threats, all with just a single scan of the data stream,

Also integrated on the Thunder_SC are multiple 10/40 Gbit/s Ethernet ports, multiple PCIe Gen3 and SATA 3 ports, up to four high-memory-bandwidth DDR 3 or DDR 4 72-bit memory controllers able to support 2400 MHz memories, a cache-coherent interconnect across dual sockets thanks to the Cavium Coherent Processor Interconnect, and a scalable fabric for east-west as well as north-south traffic connectivity. Most of these features are also available on the other Thunder families along with accelerators for each target application segment – the ST series includes storage accelerators for data protection, data integrity, security and compression, as well as efficient user-to-user data movement, the CP series includes core-to-I/O virtualization in hardware, and the NT series processors include full virtualization support and network accelerators for QoS, traffic shaping, tunnel termination, and high packet-throughput processing, network virtualization, and data monitoring.

Interesting product developments at DAC

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Dave Bursky

Many interesting IP and design verification announcements were one of the key topics running through this year’s Design Automation Conference. Several IP announcements from CAST Inc., for example, offer solutions in video decoding, graphics acceleration, and image decoding. Although developed by the Fraunhofer Henrich Hertz Institute, a H.265 HVEC decoder core is now available from CAST, and it is the first in a series of high-efficiency video coding cores that CAST will offer. The core implements the MPI-D main profile intra HVEC decoding and will be available in the third quarter of this year. The decoder design makes clever use of internal and external memory and its application-specific internal memory architecture enables the core to reuse already fetched data, thus reducing the number of memory fetches. Fewer fetches give more memory bus bandwidth back to the CPU, while at the same time reducing the power needed by the core.

Another core offered by CAST that was developed by IP partner Think Silicon, saves energy in graphics applications by offloading a GPU or a CPU that does not include GPU support. The Think2.5D graphics accelerator is a rendering engine that accelerates two-dimensional graphics functions and pseudo three-dimensional effects such as reflected and shadowed icons. The engine significantly offloads a system’s GPU, performing the calculations at a reduced power level. And for systems without a GPU, the core can offload the host CPU and accelerate the calculations, providing a “snappier” feel to the screen operations –and at lower power consumption levels. Also available from CAST is a graphics processing unit that was also created by Think Silicon. The ThinkVG core supports the Khronos Group OpenVG 1.1 standard, and CAST claims it is one of the smallest and lowest power GPU cores available. Inside the core is a floating-point SIMD streaming engine specifically designed for graphics applications (Vshader) plus graphic accelerators for the blending, rasterization, and texture-mapping functions.

For still images, Alma Technologies, another CAST partner developed a 12-bit extended-resolution JPEG decoder, the JPEG-D-X, that CAST supports. The core supports applications requiring images with greater dynamic range, such as in medical imaging and machine vision. Able to decode static images or motion JPEG streams compressed in Baseline or Extended JPEG formats with 8-or 12-bits per sample precision. The decoder complements the company’s previously-release 12-bit JPEG encoder, and provides efficient, low-latency decompression do deep color images and video with a tiny silicon footprint and low power consumption.

It’s not often tool vendors will offer a free version of one of their new tools, but Agnisys has done just that – free versions of DVinsight, a correct-by-construction tool for design and verification applications. The tool is an integrated development environment for he development of Universal Verification Methodology (UVM) based System Verilog (SV) design verification (DV) code. DVinsight ensures compliance with best practices in using UVM while adhering to established standards. The tool provides on-the-fly checks and guides for creating SV/UVM code, provides auto code completion, context-based hints and includes many built-in rules to ensure correct-by-construction DV code development.

Another newcomer in the DV space is SmartDV North America, the U.S. arm of SmartDV Technologies India Private Ltd. The company provides well-supported verification IP blocks that include compliance test suites and complete functional coverage models that help accelerate time to market. The verification models are generated by the company’s internally developed compiler technology, which allows the company to rapidly generate the verification IP and tweak the IP very rapidly (in days rather than weeks) if customers need any customization or a bug must be corrected. Also offering verification IP, TrueChip provides support for USB 3, various versions of ARM’s AMBA bus, and will shortly have the new USB 3.1 verification IP.
Additional DAC product updates will appear in the next column.

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