P.A. Semi challenges AMD, IBM and Intel in power efficiency

Santa Clara (CA) - P.A. semi, a fabless chip design company today said that its debut processor has entered the sampling phase and is shipping in small numbers to customers. The company claims that the 2 GHz dual-core processor is four to five times more power efficient than any other processor in its class.

According to the developer, the PWRficient PA6T-1682M processor platform consumes a maximum of 25 watts and a typical 5 - 13 watts, compared to an Intel Core 2 Duo with 85 watts and an AMD Athlon 64 X2 with 95 watts, if equipped with similar components. P. A. semi, which stands for Palo Alto Semi, came out of its stealth phase in October 2005, when it first announced plans to sample PA6T-1682M in Q3 2006.

The company is a bit behind its initial schedule, but reached its goal to roll out a working processor to customers. The foundation of the PA6T-1682M is IBM's power architecture, which P.A. semi has licensed from IBM. Using a 65 nm design, the 64-bit processor integrates about 200 million transistors. At the heart of the chip are two 2 GHz cores, which are connected by a 16 Gb "Connexium" interface. Connexium also connects to a 2 MB shared L2 cache, two DDR2 controllers as well as the CPU subsystems such as transaction trace memory and I/O. Both cores have access to 128 kB dedicated cache as well as built-in acceleration engines, for example for TCP/IP and security computations. According to P.A. semi, the I/O subsystem supports eight PCI Express controllers, two 10-Gigabit Ethernet controllers and four Gigabit Ethernet controllers

The design is scalable to eight cores, to 2.5 GHz clock speed and up to 8 MB L2 cache.

Traditional PCs are unlikely to see the P. A. Semi processor anytime soon. The company is trying to go after markets that have used Power processors in the past and have a need for more efficient architectures, which include segments such as telecommunications, data storage, military and embedded markets. The company also believes that the chip would be capable enough to run in game consoles - a market which is dominated by IBM's Power architecture today.

However, no matter how powerful, power-efficient and innovative the processor will turn out to be, P. A. Semi will be competing in a highly competitive market that is controlled by Intel, IBM and AMD. This scenario is somewhat reminiscent of Transmeta, which tried to revolutionize the microprocessor market with its power-saving "Crusoe" processor seven years ago. While the technology of the company received substantial praise, the firm could not establish a large enough customer base to be able to survive and ended up canceling its processor production and turn towards licensing and technology development.

The firm claims that it has been working with more than 100 customers and that it has a global sales and distribution structure in place. Volume shipments of the PA6T-1682M processor are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.