Mobilize Your Multimedia With A PDA On A Chip

July 9, 2001
This SoC combines a CPU, DRAM, 3D graphics, audio, and more to deliver top performance in handheld or Internet appliances.

As handheld digital assistants and Internet appliances are asked to handle ever more complex tasks, designers face critical tradeoffs between cost, performance, power, and size. Additionally, displays on such devices are typically limited to simple 2D graphics and alphanumeric data, although some now have color and limited video display capability. All the desired functionality can be achieved with off-the-shelf microprocessors, memories, and peripheral support chips. But such circuits don't solve the other tradeoff issues. Standard circuits usually lack the high level of integration and lower power consumption to make the handheld device practical.

PDAs and Internet appliances are also doing more than allowing users to access data or address books. Some of the largest growth areas now include visual communications and entertainment. For example, the recently released Kodak MC3 combines the features of a digital still camera, a digital camcorder, and an MP3 player, qualifying it as a portable multimedia device. Likewise, the Cybiko handheld device combines a game similar to the Nintendo Gameboy, a PDA data organizer, and two-way paging, making it a wireless "intertainment" (Internet-based entertainment) system.

For such devices, higher-performance graphics and greater video support must be embedded to handle graphics and video data streams. At the same time, the higher-performance engines can't consume more power. On the contrary, they must consume even less power than previous alternatives. For low operating power levels, designers can incorporate gated clocking to turn off blocks not in use for a particular operation, and software-controlled scalable clocks to permit on-the-fly adjustments to system operating speed.

NeoMagic's designers have noticed this trend and the accompanying demanding system requirements. By leveraging their expertise in combining DRAM and graphics/video logic with analog circuitry, they developed the Mobile Internet Magic (MiMagic) family of single-chip solutions for handheld internet appliances. Initially, these system-on-a-chip (SoC) solutions will come in two versions—the NMS7040 for high-performance 2D graphics, and the NMS7041 for eye-popping 3D graphics. Both will include a 128-bit bit-block-transfer (bitBLT) graphics engine and 4 Mbytes of embedded DRAM.

The company also plans to expand the product family with versions that pack larger amounts of DRAM and/or a highly parallel compute block, the associative processor array (APA). The compute array will permit the parallel processing of thousands of pixels, greatly accelerating imaging and data computations. Thousands of compute elements comprise the APA block, each containing storage and processing functions. The processing elements take advantage of content-addressable memory to access like data very quickly. This accelerates time-critical operations such as table lookups, address matching, and pattern matching—key operations in networking and multimedia applications.

Such a computational array promises to greatly accelerate the playback of media streams and handle various image-processing functions with ease. For example, when clocked at 66 MHz, the APA array could perform 21.6 G additions (8-bit)/s, or 2.6 G 3-by-3 low-pass filter operations/s, or 135.2 million 8-by-8 discrete cosine transforms/s. Such performance levels are four to 10 times higher than some of the best standard DSP chips available.

The First Solutions Of course, providing a system solution entails a lot more than just combining logic and memory on a chip. Designers at NeoMagic first examined typical system architectures to determine the essential functions and performance requirements that a single-chip solution must deliver.

In a typical Internet appliance, that means starting with a moderate- to high-performance CPU, a high-performance graphics/media engine with integrated graphics memory, an LCD screen controller (very often with touch-screen/pen-input capability), an interface to external SDRAM, flash, SRAM, or ROM (up to 512 Mbytes), and support for audio and video I/O. The chip should also include interface support for USB, Bluetooth, game controls, infrared, and other I/O devices.

To control these features, NeoMagic combined a memory-mapped architecture centered around a 32-bit MIPS 4Kc RISC CPU core. It contains 16-kbyte data and instruction caches, plus a single-cycle 32- by 16-bit multiplier-accumulator. Next, the designers integrated in the high-performance 2D or 3D graphics engine and 4 Mbytes of embedded DRAM to support the graphics and application software (Fig. 1). Without the big multiwatt power consumption, these highly integrated PDA engines deliver graphics performance comparable to that of today's mainstream desktop computers (Fig. 2).

This combination of high performance and low power comes from NeoMagic's ability to cointegrate the DRAM and the graphics logic. Transferring data over a 256-bit wide bus that links the embedded DRAM to the graphics engine achieves extremely high performance. The bus permits peak data transfer rates of 3.2 Gbytes/s without the typical high power consumption encountered when implementing the graphics subsystem with discrete SDRAMs and a graphics controller chip.

Additionally, a DMA controller helps keep data transfer speeds at maximum by handling transfers from external memory devices to the embedded DRAM. The controller manages 3D texture transfers from external memory to the internal 3D texture FIFO and moves 3D vertex data from the embedded DRAM to the 3D vertex FIFO.

The 2D graphics engine supports 128-bit bitBLT operations, color expansion, x-y coordinate addressing, rectangle clipping, patterning, and integrated raster operations. Also, the engine contains a hardware cursor and hardware icon memory. When running at its peak throughput, the engine delivers 800 million 16-bit pixels/s.

On the NMS7041, the 3D graphics engine includes both 3D triangle setup and a 3D rendering pipeline. That lets the engine deliver a 50 million-pixel/s fill rate and display over 1 million triangles/s. The engine also provides double buffering to prevent image tearing, and a 16-bit Z-buffer for depth processing. Other engine features allow bilinear and trilinear filtering, flat and Gouraud shading, perspective-correct texture mapping, MIP mapping, source alpha blending, vertex fogging, specular highlighting, texture blending, and color dithering. The engine handles 4- or 8-bit parallelized and nonparallelized textures, and it includes a streaming texture cache.

Both chips provide the eye-catching display output via a flexible and high-performance LCD controller. A CRT output with integrated digital-to-analog converters drives external monitors or LCD projectors. Plus, a TV output delivers a 640- by 480-pixel image with a pixel depth of 16 bits (RGB 5:6:5). When used with an external TV encoder chip, the output can deliver NTSC, PAL, or SECAM video.

The LCD support lets designers add LCD screens that have from 120- by 160-pixel resolutions and monochrome color depth (1-bit/pixel) to 1024 by 768 pixels with 24-bit/pixel color depth. Designers also can program the LCD controller for nonstandard resolutions and aspect ratios. And, the controller can be configured so the images can be turned in 90° increments.

On the input side, the LCD controller includes an analog touch-screen interface with on-chip analog-to-digital converters. Adding some external logic, the touch-screen inputs can be adapted to handle either stylus or finger touch as the control or data-entry interface.

Part of the multimedia support on the chips is a multichannel audio subsystem. Both 2D and 3D chips have an audio controller that delivers eight audio output channels for mono or stereo playback, and one record channel input. An eight-channel ADPCM decoder handles compressed audio playback, and an eight-channel digital mixer/sample-rate converter provides flexible output capabilities. The audio block handles sample rates from 8 to 48 kHz. It packs an interface to AC-97-compatible codecs and a MIDI interface that supports off-chip wavetable synthesis.

The rest of the logic on the MiMagic chips provides a wide variety of support functions to designers. A trio of PLLs and dual oscillators work with power-management logic to enable three system operating modes—normal, standby, and suspend (with only a 32-kHz oscillator running). An integrated interrupt controller offers six external interrupt inputs, many internal interrupt sources, and a nonmaskable interrupt input. Moreover, both chips house a host of peripheral I/O support functions, such as a three-port USB host controller (USB 1.1 compliant) with integrated transceivers, multiple 32-bit timers plus a real-time clock, dual RS-232 serial ports, dual analog joystick interfaces, and two dozen general-purpose I/O pins.

Designers also built in dual high-speed synchronous extension buses to permit these chips to tie into larger systems. The external bus interfaces support the use of memory cartridges and the ability to write code that can execute in place (directly from the cartridge, rather than requiring the contents of the cartridge to be downloaded, then executed from the system's internal memory). This reduces the system's internal memory requirement and allows hardware expansion cartridges to include self-contained software drivers.

Because the MiMagic chips are based on the MIPS 4Kc core, any MIPS software development tool can be used to develop and debug the application software. The graphics engine will support various operating systems. For Linux for instance, Trolltech of Oslo, Norway (, offers a full graphical-user interface and 2D tool suite. For 3D graphics, NeoMagic also has its own API called RSGL (real simple graphics library) and is developing a fully compliant WinCE API and library.

The company has a hardware development platform that includes either MiMagic chip and implements almost all options, including the analog joysticks, plug-in expansion cards, music synthesis, and USB ports. The first operating-system port will be for BlueCat Linux from LynuxWorks, San Jose, Calif. (

Price & AvailabilityThe MiMagic system solutions will be sampled to key customers this quarter with commercial samples available in the fourth quarter. In 100-piece sample quantities, the NMS7040 and NMS7041 will sell for $35 and $50 each, respectively. Initial samples will be housed in 329-contact BGAs, but production units will be housed in 324-contact BGAs. Available in the fall, development boards will cost $1000 each.

NeoMagic Corp., 3250 Jay St., Santa Clara, CA 95054; Jason Chiang, (408) 988-7020,

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