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Synopsys’ Relaunched ARC Is Not The Answer

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

During the month of September Synopsys spent considerable marketing resources relaunching its ARC processor family of products by leveraging the IoT.  First on September 10 it published a release announcing two additional versions of the ARC EM family of deeply embedded DSP cores.  Then on September 15 the company held a free one-day ARC Processor Summit in Santa Clara and on September 22 issued another press release about its involvement in IoT again mentioning the embARC Open Software Platform and ARC Access Program.  It is not clear that ARC will fare any better in the market after this effort than it did in the past.

Background

Almost ten years ago a company called ARC International LTD designed and developed a RISC processor called Argonaut RISC Core.  Its architecture has roots in the Super FX chip for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  In 2009 Virage Logic purchased ARC International.  Virage specialized in embedded test systems and was acquired by Synopsys in 2010.  This is how Synopsys became the owner of the ARC architecture, although it was just interested in the embedded test technology.

Since that acquisition ARC has seen various developments that produced five product families all within the DesignWare group.  Financial success of the ARC family has been modest, especially when compared within the much more popular product families in the company.  The EM family is one of the five product families where the two new products reside.  During this year’s DVCon, at the beginning of March I had an interview with Joachim Kunkel, Sr. Vice President and General Manager of the Solutions Group at Synopsys who is responsible among other things of the IP products.  We talked about the ARC family and how Synopsys had not yet found a way to efficiently use this core.  We agreed that IoT applications could benefit from such an IP especially if well integrated with other DesignWare pieces and security software.

The Implementation

I think that the ARC family will never play a significant part in Synopsys revenue generation, even after this last marketing effort.

It seems clear to me that the IoT strategy is built on more viable corporate resources than just the ARC processor.  The two new cores are the EM9D and EM11D which implement an enhanced version of the ARCv2DSP instruction set architecture, combining RISC and DSP processing with support for an XY memory system to boost digital signal processing performance while minimizing power consumption.  Synopsys claims that the cores are from 3 to 5 times more efficient than the two previous similar cores, but the press release specifically avoids comparison with similar devices from other vendors.

When I read the data sheets of devices from possible competitors I appreciate the wisdom to avoid direct comparison.  Although the engineering work to produce the two new cores seems quite good, there is only so much that can be done with a ten years old architecture.  ARC becomes valuable only if sold as part of a sub-system that integrates other Synopsys IP and security products owned by the company.

It is also clear that those other resources will generate more revenue for Synopsys when integrated with other DSP processors from ARM, Intel, and may be Apple or even Cadence.  ARC has been neglected for too long to be competitive by itself, especially when considering the IoT market.  ARC is best used at the terminals or data acquisition nodes.  Such nodes are highly specialized, small, and above all very price sensitive.  A variation of few cents makes the difference between adoption or not.  This is not a market Synopsys is comfortable with.  Synopsys prefers to control by offering the best solution at a price it finds acceptable.

Conclusion

The ARC world will remain small.  Synopsys mark on the IoT will possibly be substantial but certainly not because of ARC.

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