On March 16 LSI Logic announced that it will license its ZSP core to Conexant for use in wireless mobile applications. Following on the heels of Broadcom and IBM, Conexant's deal with LSI Logic is a strong endorsement of the ZSP's potential as a licensable core—a potential that has not always been clear.
In 1998 ZSP Corporation, the original developers of the core, demonstrated silicon at a then-impressive 200 MHz, but the architecture was unable to get traction in the market. BDTI analyzed the architecture and found that it had strong DSP performance (for that time) and exceptionally good code density. But there weren't any takers. LSI later acquired the technology, but its initial silence about how it planned to use the ZSP core left us wondering whether the architecture had a real future. However, with Broadcom, IBM, and now Conexant backing the core, it appears that the ZSP core is finally gaining market momentum.
Not entirely clear is Conexant's rationale for using the superscalar ZSP in wireless mobile applications: superscalar processors tend to be relatively power-hungry, which is one reason why they are not commonly used in DSP processors, and thus far are nearly unheard of in power-sensitive DSP applications. Indeed, ZSP Corporation itself had originally promoted the architecture for communications infrastructure, not for mobile applications.
Also interesting is that Conexant is licensing a DSP core at all; the company has historically used its own home-grown DSP architectures. In response to difficult market conditions and falling stock prices, Conexant might be trying to cut costs by sharing development expenses. Or perhaps they, along with IBM and Broadcom, have found a compelling reason to begin using the ZSP core almost two years after its acquisition by LSI Logic.