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Wireless Systems Design

SoC Design Gains Flexibility For The Future

Don't let the innocuous title of this book fool you. Chris Rowen, President and CEO of Tensilica, has prepared a technically accurate but accessible work that explains why the systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) of tomorrow won't be designed like today's SoCs. Rowen convincingly argues that the era of proprietary, non-modular processor architectures is ending for a significant portion of the computer and consumer-electronic markets. In place of this era, an architecture is emerging that is based upon modular subsystems, well-defined interfaces, and intellectual property (IP). Because today's electronics are heavily processor-based, the evolving SoC design paradigm will require a unified hardware/software-approach methodology that uses configurable, extensible processor technology.

The first part of this book starts as any good text on engineering should begin: by clearly identifying the problem. The author identifies six fundamental issues that affect the design of today's complex SoCs. These challenges can be addressed—with varying degrees of success—through the use of extensible processors rather than traditional processors or hardwired logic.

This approach leads to a discussion that challenges the current view of SoC hardware and software design. The top-down approach of functional decomposition results in blocks of functions that can suffer from latency and data-throughput issues when they're implemented in ASIC processors. Later sections of the book present a detailed look at the hardware design challenges that are associated with translating hardware functions in application-specific, flexibly programmable processors. Power concerns also are addressed.

One of my favorite sections is Chapter 7. Here, Rowen explores system-level-design issues as they move toward the trend of parallel processors. The balance between the needs of hardware and software designers is key to this system view. "Understanding and reducing these tradeoffs is an ongoing theme in this chapter," notes Rowen.

The book ends with a look at SoC design of the future. Through this work, the author addresses a range of hardware, software, and system-design issues. Instead of covering each of these topics in excruciating detail, the author provides a "further reading" section at the end of each chapter. Although the book's key focus is Tensilica's Xtensa processor architecture, anyone designing today's SoCs would benefit from its modular, system-level architectural-design approach.

Engineering the Complex SOC: Fast, Flexible Design with Configurable Processors by Chris Rowen is available from Prentice Hall ( for $89.00. The ISBN is 0131455370.

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