CEVA goes up against ARM with hybrid DSP/controller architecture

CEVA, the dominant provider of licensable IP for digital signal processors (DSPs) in the cellular market, has announced a “hybrid DSP/controller architecture” called CEVA-BX, which aims to expand the firm’s reach by sitting between a traditional DSP and a programmable, multi-purpose microcontroller (MCU).

This approach is becoming necessary for next generation, multimedia consumer devices, 5G PHY control, neutral networks and many other applications, according to the company. It says CEVA-BX combines the “low power requirements of DSP kernels with high level programming … but with the compact code size requirements” of control code.

The platform would enable a more streamlined, cost effective approach in a device which might currently use a combination of special purpose DSPs (for audio perhaps), together with MCUs with DSP extensions, in order to support the complex tasks carried out by the latest consumer gadgets. CEVA-BX aims to handle all that in one platform, while being flexible enough for a wide diversity of applications.

Moshe Sheier, VP of marketing at CEVA, said the new core design has four times greater horsepower than the CEVA-X DSP core, introduced three years ago. It will come in two versions – BX1 and BX2. The former is for low to midrange DSP workloads, with target applications listed as including NB-IoT modems, protocol stacks and sensor fusion. The BX2 will be for intensive workloads such as 5G PHY control, multi-microphone beamforming and neural net-based speech recognition, said the company.

CEVA’s business model is comparable to that of ARM or MIPS in the MCU and microprocessor markets, and it has emulated the mobile core giant in another way now, adding security features which EETimes compared to ARM’s TrustZone. But it is also overlapping with ARM’s MCU business, and Sheier claims CEVA-BX’s controller delivers “stronger performance than most ARM cores”, with about 30% smaller code size. In the view of chip analysts The Linley Group, the new platform will compete most aggressively against the ARM Cortex-M7 and Cortex-M33 MCU designs; and also against DSP designs from Cadence and Tensilica.

Ceva is making both Ceva-BX family cores already available to the company’s lead customers. They are available for general use by the end of the first quarter, this year.