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ARM to add media booster to next-gen chips

Neon SIMD extensions coming mid-2005

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ARM this week added a SIMD engine to its ARMv7 ISA in a bid to improve the platform's ability to process multimedia and network datastreams.

The new technology, dubbed 'Neon', equips future ARMv7 chips with extra registers to store 64- or 128-bit chunks of information in fixed or floating point form.

Like Intel's Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) series of x86 additions, AMD's 3DNow! and Freescale/IBM's AltiVec (called 'Velocity Engine' by Apple), Neon essentially allows a single instruction to be applied to more than one data elements. Hence SIMD - Single Instruction, Multiple Data.

In each case, the SIMD engine is used to accelerate the processing of time-dependent datastreams which require the same algorithm to be applied throughout. Typical applications are TCP/IP data processing, 3D graphics and video compression and decompression.

As we've seen with PC chips, add-on processing for intensive tasks like 3D rendering haven't been superseded by SIMD, so Neon is unlikely to eliminate the need for external graphics processors in mobile phones and other handhelds. However, ARM's move should improve its platform's ability to handle audio and video data, and indeed, that appears to be the company's pitch for the new technology.

When Neon will surface isn't yet known - ARM simply talked about future processors. However, a likely timeframe for Neon availability is mid-2005, with final silicon shipping in a timeframe that makes it possible for vendors to commercialise products based on the new technology in 2007-2008. ®

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