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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The path to tackling system design complexity runs straight through system-on-chip (SoC) IP design and methodology, because getting differentiated systems to market in a timely manner can no longer be done from scratch.

That was the message from Krishna Yarlagadda, President of Imagination Technologies Inc., who keynoted March 11 at Cadence's CDNLive Silicon Valley user conference. Yarlagadda has an appropriate perspective: He began his career designing SPARC workstation processors, and his career arc has tracked with the evolution of processor architectures from hard-core computing to graphics to mobility. His company Hellosoft (V.VOIP and VoLTE technologies) was purchased by Imagination three years ago. Imagination Technologies President Krishna Yarlagadda at CDNLive 2014

He defined today's big market opportunity, the Internet of Things (IoT) as largely your computer, phone, tablet, and car. But this landscape will change rapidly in the coming years as systems, devices, and applications emerge for healthcare, the home, and other areas.

As this happens, engineers must confront some traditional design challenges in power, area, cost, software, and security.

"You can't do these things from scratch or just pick up a CPU core or do your own core," Yarlagadda told a standing-room only audience at the Santa Clara Convention Center. "There are a lot of smart people out there who do cores. We all know how to design them. But is that the right thing to do?"

He added:

"The key is to take the existing IP that's best in class and bring it together in a way that you can deliver your solution faster along with your core intellectual property."

At Imagination, they call the approach a heterogeneous SoC platform that combines CPUs, GPUs, and video and imaging processing blocks as well as communications processor blocks called RPUs (radio processing units).

"You can bring all that together with your own IP and others' IP and you can create these systems much more efficiently," Yarlagadda said.Imagination Technologies heterogeneous SoC platform

By way of example, Yarlagadda shared a slide of a PowerVR-based heterogenous vision platform (pictured, left): 

"You take the image from the image sensor and go through the ISP and process it in various ways. You can do compute algorithms on various CPUs; you can run some GPU algorithms. You might have your own custom block that you want to run various things on. By the way, software is key."

And as design teams are bringing all these blocks and software together, they must be mindful of power and thermal constraints: "This is a serious problem and a lot of people ignore this. It already dominates at 28nm design."

In an afternoon session with members of the technical press, Yarlagadda expanded a little on the design challenges ahead. Clearly, an IP/platform-based approach to design will be a logical way to tackle complexity, he noted. But the economics of the IoT market (small devices, low cost, thin margins) loom as another major challenge.

"There are architectural issues. Systems must be simpler, both hardware and software must be simpler because these (devices) can't be too expensive," he said. Right now, "they have a function but they're expensive."

Imagination's focus is to enable the design and make things simpler, he said. "That's why we have silicon IP, graphics, MIPS CPU, RPU for communications and we have the cloud offering (FlowCloud) that allows the IoT (devices) to work together in a secure, authenticated environment."

Brian Fuller

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