French startup takes on FPGAs with multicore DSP chip

October 02, 2012 // By Nick Flaherty
A French chip startup has just sampled the first silicon of a massively parallel digital signal processing (DSP) chip to take on field programmable FPGAs.

Kalray in Paris has sampled a 256-core digital signal processing chip built in TSMC's leading edge 28nm technology but with a fraction of the power consumption of today’s FPGAs. The company is planning a version with 1024 high performance DSP cores on a single die.

The first -Purpose Processor Array MPPA-256 processor integrates 256 processors onto a single silicon chip all connected by a high bandwidth Network on Chip but typically consumes 5W for performance of 500Goperations/s. The chip also provides up to 230GFLOPS/s for floating point calculations and is aimed at custom applications in industrial markets, particularly video and telecommunications infrastructure.

“The next stage is a smaller chip with 64 processors but then the next step will be 512 processors or with a small shrink we could go to 1024,” said Joël Monnier, CEO at Kalray. “The beauty of video applications is that they will use all the performance you can provide.” This 1024 processor version will provide almost 3TeraOP/s of performance at 400MHz.

The company was started at the heart of the financial crisis in 2008 by Monnier, a vice president at ST Microelectronics at the time. “With a couple of colleagues we wanted to be a replacement for high end FPGAs and give more computing power for less power consumption while being easier to programme for small and medium sized applications in the industrial market,“ he said.

“We see a convergence of vision signal processing and communications,” he said. “Initially the project came from our expertise in video signal processing and imaging. You need a lot of computing power but it’s easy to parallelise the code so it’s easy to map to the sea of processors that we have. On top of that for communications you need high bandwidth for data so in a certain way we can meet a number of applications in the industrial market.”

The company is funded with around $25m so far from