The need for Network-on-Chip (NoC) has appeared at the time where chip makers realized that they could really integrate a complete system on a single die to build a System-on-Chip (SoC). At the early times (1995-2005), the so-call NoC IP suppliers were in fact proposing a crossbar switch, a pretty old concept initially developed for Telecom applications where you had to switch between multiple users, every signal (user) having the same priority.
When the chip makers have realized that Moore’ law was allowing complex SoC development, they understood that such development was only possible if they could assemble existing IP blocks (externally sourced or internally designed). Integrating various IP, each of these being a complete functional block, in a chip lead to the next problem to solve: how to efficiently interconnect these functions together and with the CPU (GPU)? Then came the need for something more efficient than just a crossbar switch, a kind of “intelligent” interconnect system, say a Network, and because it’s to be internal, a Network on Chip: the NoC.
The above picture illustrate the move from the design of a Video Engine (in the 1990…), requiring a Village type of traffic when compared with a SoC design of the 2005 (OMAP4 from TI) requiring a City Traffic infrastructure. If we try to be more specific (and scientific!) we can say that a NoC is similar to a modern telecommunications network, using digital bit-packet switching over multiplexed links. Although packet-switching is sometimes claimed as necessity for a NoC, there are several NoC proposals utilizing circuit-switching techniques. This definition based on routers is usually interpreted so that a single shared bus, a single crossbar switch or a point-to-point network are not NoCs but practically all other topologies are. Arteris’ FlexNoC interconnect IP product line generates a true NoC IP with distributed packetized transport and high-level SoC communication services, as opposed to a hybrid bus with centralized cross bars.
Since 2005 and the start of Arteris, FlexNoC, their flagship product, has made his way, initially in the wireless segment (I may be wrong, but I think Texas Instruments was Arteris very first customer, the FlexNoC being integrated into OMAP, the Application Platform for wireless phones/smartphones), rapidly gaining market share in this very demanding, competitive segment. Most of the time, the real competition was with internally developed solution. Everybody who had to compete with the Non-Invented-Here (NIH) syndrome knows how difficult it can be: you may have the best product, the NIH make it very difficult to sale! When looking at Arteris web site, you can see that the company is selling now in Wireless, Video and Imaging, Networking, Automotive and Consumer segments. That you see is also the fact that these customers are mostly located in USA, Korea and Japan. Europe and the rest of Asia was a virgin territory for Arteris… until very recently, on July the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] to be specific, when a press release was announcing that Rockchip had acquired the FlexNoC IP from Arteris.
Which is very interesting is that the company is a “leading Chinese fabless semiconductor company and mobile internet System-on-Chip (SoC) provider will leverage the chip in new cost-effective Android-based tablets and other mobile devices”. The NoC penetration in China is a strong signal: it means that Chinese fabless are playing in the same space than the TI, Qualcomm or Samsung. It also means that the Network-on-Chip, just a concept ten years ago, is penetrating every segment, every region of the world. One reason can be found in Rockchip quote from Li Shiqin: “We evaluated all the leading interconnect technologies and proved that Arteris’ NoC technology is the good choice for our multicore ARM-based SoCs,” said Li Shiqin, IC Design Manager at Rockchip. “Arteris FlexNoC is the suitable way for us to meet our design frequency, power, memory efficiency and QoS requirements.” The combination of Rockchip’s high-performance, energy-efficient processor and Arteris’ FlexNoC interconnect IP will deliver a robust platform for data-intensive tablet applications. These key benefits will translate to faster time-to-market for Android table manufacturers striving to meet fast changing consumer demands.
We also should quote Charles Janac: “Rockchip’s reliance on Arteris FlexNoC as the SoC interconnect within their most important platforms speaks volumes for Arteris’ unique network-on-chip technology,” said K. Charles Janac, President and CEO of Arteris. “Arteris NoC technology resolves key system bottlenecks ? and delivers significant technological and economic benefits.”
To learn a lot more about NoC and Arteris products, just go here.