Whether for data or voice, digital signal processors (DSPs) are gaining popularity in wired and wireless network applications. Their number-crunching capabilities make DSPs a clear choice over general-purpose microcontrollers in situations that are more computationally intensive.
“It's true that some compute-intensive applications can be performed on a microcontroller or a microprocessor,” says Scott Aylor, director of DSP product management for Freescale Semiconductor. “But microcontroller architectures are built to be fairly general-purpose. To do the same thing as a DSP, you would have to run that (microcontroller) significantly faster or have a higher number of cores.”
These days, DSP makers are emphasizing their speed advantages by adding more cores, as well as hardware accelerators that boost performance to even greater levels. Freescale, for example, recently rolled out a six-core DSP with hardware accelerators aimed at wireless data networks.
Wireless data applications; however, are only the beginning. Today's DSPs are carving out a niche in a wide variety of number-crunching applications, ranging from VoIP telephony and conferencing phones to oscilloscopes and portable electrocardiographs.
Here, we've gathered three of the latest DSP products from Analog Devices, Freescale and Texas Instruments.
ADI's Low-Power Family of DSPs
Analog Devices' Blackfin BF51x series is aimed at reducing cost, power and software complexity. The family includes the BF512, BF514, BF516 and BF518. All are single-core convergent processors that are said to “surpass microcontroller+DSP approaches in reducing part count, system cost, board space and power consumption.” All four of the new 16/32 bit BF51x processors are available in clock speeds up to 400 MHz and include 116 kbytes of RAM plus an optional 4 Mbits of serial Flash memory. ADI says the parts are targeted at industrial applications and instrumentation, portable medical diagnostics and VoIP telephony.
TI's DSP Combines Fixed- And Floating-Point Operation
Texas Instruments' TMS320C6743 DSP combines fixed- and floating-point performance for connected, low-cost applications that need low power. Introduced in April, the new device is said to be the lowest-cost, lowest-power DSP to offer Ethernet connectivity. It draws 60 mW in standby mode and 490 mW at 300 MHz. In standby, it is said to offer days of battery life. Cost is $7.85 in quantities of 1,000 or more. The new device is aimed at test and measurement systems, oscilloscopes, electrocardiography, conferencing phones, programmable automation, power protection systems and audio foot pedals.
Freescale's Six-Core DSP
Freescale Semiconductor's MSC8156, a six-core DSP based on Freescale's SC3850 StarCore technology, is designed to advance the capabilities of wireless broadband equipment, especially wireless data applications. “People are accustomed to having wireless data access in their home or office, and they want to know, 'Why can't I have it on the road or at a customer site?'” says Scott Aylor of Freescale. The company's new product offers a step in that direction. Built on 45-nm process technology in a highly integrated system-on-chip, it provides performance equivalent to that of a 6-GHz, single-core device. It enables near-team adoption of next-generation wireless standards such as 3G-LTE, WiMAX, HSPA+ and TDD-LTE.