Somewhat over a year ago I jotted down some notes on parallel microcontrollers. I hadn’t heard or done much since, but a few things have happened. I ended the note with a plea for more options, and today it was finally – albeit indirectly – answered. Slashdot picked up some PR from Intel regarding higly multi-core processors, and a comment regarding other brands mentioned two I had not yet heard of.
GreenArrays has started offering some of their larger chips for sale. They’re another product I suspect will be relegated to niche status and forgotten, which is really a pity as they have some very good ideas. The problems aren’t very complex, and not necessarily crippling. First, the whole design is based on the creator’s favourite language, Forth. It is a 1970’s language, and hasn’t changed much since. As such, the grand interactive development system is.. well.. like an 80s microcomputer. It simply doesn’t scale well, and that’s a problem when scaling is what it’s all about – they offer 144-core chips! The other drawback is the lack of communications routing, as all those cores must programmatically shuffle data between them (and yes, the entire layout has to be done manually for now). Finally, don’t expect a hobbyist foothold when only large BGA models are available, nor much of an industrial one while you’re the only source and porting costs would be immense. Where the design shines is in power efficiency, and it’s fairly impressive when it comes to speed and code density, but it just doesn’t seem enough.
Picochip multi-core DSPs fall in the hybrid chip category. They feature a reconfigurable section, but instead of the bit-level FPGA design they have a bunch of DSPs, while ARM cores handle the general purpose computing.
The Icera chips, on the other hand, I found no actual details about. It reminds me of Zii – there’s some DSP going on, but they won’t tell what.
The Zii Plaszma is actually being sold, with plenty of marketspeak claiming it’s revolutionary, but they seem more focused on making up analogies and buzzwords rather than admitting anything about the architecture or specifications. In fact, they’re so busy making these up that they’re outright lying about what other things do. Their marketing has convinced me not to trust them.
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