Multicore’s perfect balance
Posted date : Dec 4, 2009

Freescale’s highly successful QorIQ™ line of communications processors leverages 45nm SOI for power & performance at the right price.

Last year, Freescale launched a new line of communications platforms on 45nm SOI under the QorIQ™ (pronounced “Core IQ”) brand name. As the industry leader, Freescale has shipped 250 million communications processors over the years. With QorIQ, Freescale is carrying forward proven IP from its industry-leading PowerQUICC family, as well as building new innovations into the QorIQ platforms.

Along with the increasing functionality required in embedded networking applications, limits to power density and increased leakage currents in advanced processes have led to wide adoption of multicore processors. As such, the QorIQ platforms encompass a new level of performance and low power for Freescale’s networking product portfolio. They span the market with a broad range of solutions from single- and dual- to multi-core devices. These products are all based on e500 Power Architecture® cores, ranging from 800MHz to 1.5GHz each, with per-core power consumption of just a few watts. The QorIQ product roadmap extends through 32nm and beyond.

A die shot of the QorIQ P4080 multicore device. (Courtesy: Freescale)

QorIQ platforms are 80 percent lower power than non-embedded multicore platforms and as much as 60 percent lower power than other embedded multicore solutions. QorIQ P1 and P2 dual-core processors drive the industry’s best performance-to-power ratio. And, the 4- and 8-core options in the QorIQ P4 platform enable advanced frequency while maintaining aggressive power envelopes.

Customer savings

Multicore processors targeted at networking are “systems on a chip” – integrating multiple CPU cores, network I/O and hardware accelerators. Essentially this takes the functionality that was previously implemented on a board or multiple boards and integrates it all into a single chip.

Freescale was the first embedded processing company to roll out new devices for communications and networking markets in 45nm SOI technology, taking advantage of its excellent power-to-performance capabilities.

For developers  of telecom equipment, for example, QorIQ-based microprocessor technology can help reduce the bill-of-material (BOM) costs in a typical 3-sector, 10MHz LTE (“long-term evolution”) base station by as much as 60 percent, while simultaneously reducing power consumption by 50 percent. Plus, the 45nm parts deliver enough performance to support double the number of users over the previous generation solution.

The design key to power

For the chip designer, scaling has hit some hard limits. Moving through prior CMOS technologies, power reduction was achieved largely through shrinking lithographic dimensions and aggressive voltage scaling.  That supply voltage scaling was enabled by threshold voltage reduction at the expense of transistor leakage, but without sacrificing performance. Since the 90nm node, leakage currents have become a significant portion of total power, causing a slowdown in voltage scaling and forcing the technology to reduce power via alternative methods.

Freescale’s 45nm SOI technology utilizes a multifaceted approach to deliver leading-edge performance at low power despite scaling limits. These include: intelligent use of multi-Vts with a gate oxide balanced for performance and power, multiple advanced strain and activation techniques, highly stable low leakage bitcells, ultra low-k (k=2.4) BEOL dielectric, high capacitance density decoupling, and a full suite of analog devices. These distinguishing characteristics, coupled with the inherent speed/power advantage of SOI, are the building blocks for the technology that supports Freescale’s networking and portfolio.

The results are astonishing. At the same chip performance level, 45nm SOI consumes less than half the power of the 90nm technology. Coupled with Freescale’s e500 Power Architecture cores, the technology delivers industry-leading multicore performance within a 2W to 30W power envelope. In addition, the extensive device offerings enable a broad range of differentiating IP to round-out the SoCs.

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