Jeff Bier’s Impulse Response—Hetero-genius Designs for DSP

Submitted by Jeff Bier on Sun, 07/01/2001 - 16:00

Business guru Michael Porter once observed that the U.S. railroads failed because they took too narrow a view of their business. They thought their business was just the railroads—in fact it was transportation.

DSP processor vendors are now at the crossroads of what could be a similar situation. If they take the narrow view that their business is just DSPs, they might go the way of the U.S. rail system. On the other hand, if they see themselves as DSP applications solution providers— where DSPs are only part of a heterogeneous solution—they will continue to thrive.

The reason for this is simple: application demands are growing faster than processor performance levels. For example, while 2G cellular systems are well served by DSP processor capabilities, 3G solutions are far beyond the reach of DSP processors alone. Vendors serious about targeting these advanced applications are forced to use heterogeneous designs that combine a DSP with other types of hardware.

Heterogeneous design has many benefits. Even within a typical DSP-intensive communication product there are many different kinds of algorithms whose computational demands vary radically. Data rates, even within the same system, can vary by many orders of magnitude. Data types are similarly diverse. Expecting one type of architecture—whether a DSP processor or something else—to address these wildly divergent requirements with a high degree of efficiency is both naive and futile.

With heterogeneous solutions, designers capitalize on the fact that different kinds of implementation technology are good at different things. And many different things go on inside today's DSP applications, even within such outwardly simple products as cell phones. As more and more DSP-based applications converge in consumer products—e.g., a cellphone/PDA/MP3 player—the diversity of requirements within these products increases.

The future belongs not to the vendor with the fastest DSP, but to the vendors who skillfully combine multiple implementation technologies in heterogeneous designs tailored to the needs of key applications.

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