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Freescale tips embedded partnerships for multi-core SoCs

Apr 26, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Freescale Semiconductor announced that it has signed strategic agreements with Enea, Green Hills Software, and Mentor Graphics to support Freescale's QorIQ, PowerQUICC, and StarCore processors. The agreement with Mentor Graphics calls for the company to work with Freescale on developing a common Linux build and distribution methodology for PowerQUICC and QorIQ system-on-chips (SoCs).

The three separate agreements call for Freescale and its respective partners to share IP, jointly invest in product and technology roadmaps, and "collaborate on go-to-market activities," says Freescale. The agreements "encourage deep collaboration at the earliest stages of design and throughout the entire processor product lifecycle," and calls for the development of a wide array of "pre-integrated and highly optimized solutions" for the listed processors, says the semiconductor vendor.

For Linux developers, the key announcement is the deal with Mentor Graphics. The alliance calls for "enabling highly optimized Linux solutions" for PowerQUICC and QorIQ processors, according to Freescale.

The companies will also "align on a common Linux build and distribution methodology" for the processors, says Freescale. According to Mentor Graphics' version of the announcement, the company will offer "broad portfolio coverage and be available at, or near, first silicon" for the two PowerPC-based processor families.

Mentor builds on its Embedded Alley acquisition

The Mentor Graphics deal follows up on last year's partnership surrounding the company's port of the Linux-based Android operating system to Freescale's  PowerQUICC and QorIQ processors. This first known port of Android to PowerPC was based on a pre-existing project by Linux development firm Embedded Alley, which was continued after Mentor Graphics acquired the company last July. The initial port was to the Freescale MPC8536E (PowerQUICC III) processor.

The new Linux-related deal with Freescale also covers the newer multi-core QorIQ processors, which are billed as a next-generation pin- and software-compatible successor to the PowerQUICC platform. Fabricated with 45nm process technology, the QorIQ processors range from one to eight PowerPC e500 cores. The single-core P1010 runs at 400MHz on only four Watts while the eight-core P4080 runs at 1.5GHz on a relatively modest 30 Watts.

Support from Enea and Green Hills RTOSes

Swedish telecom software firm Enea offers a range of Linux-compatible middleware, including Element, but the current deal with Freescale extends only to its OSE real-time operating system (RTOS), as well as its related OSEck platform, which targets digital signal processors (DSPs). The Enea deal, which covers Freescale's PowerQUICC and QorIQ SoCs, as well as its StarCore family of DSPs, also extends to Enea's Optima Tools and "related software."

The Green Hills alliance meanwhile focuses on enabling PowerQUICC and QorIQ processors with Green Hills' Integrity RTOS and related software. These are said to include Integrity Secure Virtualization, Multi Debugger, C/C++ compilers, TimeMachine debugging suite, and Green Hills probes. 

Alliances trump acquisitions

Freescale says it will announce more strategic alliances with additional software partners in the future. Both the PowerQUICC and QorIQ lines are already supported by the two major embedded Linux distributions: the Intel-owned Wind River Linux and Cavium-owned MontaVista Software.

The phrasing of the announcement and quotes below suggests a subtle message: Freescale prefers to partner with independent operating system software providers rather than acquiring one of its own. After Intel acquired Wind River last summer, and Cavium followed up with its acquisition of MontaVista Software, one might expect other major semiconductor firms such as Freescale or Texas Instruments (TI) to follow suit and acquire a Linux and/or RTOS vendor. In the Linux world, Timesys, which has partnered extensively with both firms, remains one such acquisition possibility.

The move toward embedded software acquisitions and closer partnerships with software firms is being driven by the growing complexity of multi-core processors. Developers are increasingly demanding better development tools and related software such as multi-core ready hypervisors to get the most out of the new SoCs.

In Enea's version of the partnership announcement, the company mentions only OSE as the initial target of the alliance. However, it lists a number of its products that support multi-core processors, including its recently announced Enea Hypervisor, which is based on OSE, but supports Linux clients via its Linx inter-process communication protocol. Green Hill offers its own hypervisor, which runs on its Integrity RTOS, but can also run Linux or Windows in a "padded cell."

Stated Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, "Despite recent trends toward consolidation, we believe that thriving and open ecosystems remain the preferred approach for enabling processors designed for the extremely diverse embedded space. Freescale's new strategic alliances strengthen its comprehensive solutions while providing more software choices for its PowerQUICC, QorIQ and StarCore customers."

Stated Lisa Su, SVP and GM of Freescale's Networking and Multimedia Group, "We believe that deepening these strategic alliances, combined with our already well-established software relationships, delivers what our customers need to leverage the full value of our highly sophisticated multicore processors."


More information on Freescale's QorIQ processors may be found here.

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