Founded in 2005 to develop and license its own architecture of low-power processor cores and associated development tools, Andes is still privately held but has received significant minority investment from fabless chip company MediaTek Inc. (Hsinchu,Taiwan). MediaTek is also a licensee.
Although Andes may not be well known in Europe it has achieved design wins in numerous wireless connectivity chips and touchscreen controllers and Andes IP has shipped in more than a billion chips to date. Having started in southeast Asia before ramping commercial activities in the United States, Lin now reckons the suitability of the company's AndeStar architecture for low-power nodes in the Internet of Things (IoT) makes it a good fit for European developers.
EETE: What differentiates Andes Technologies processor cores from those of other suppliers such as ARM, Imagination (MIPS), Synopsys (ARC) or Cadence (Tensilica)?
Frankwell Lin: "The AndesCore series comes with differentiations such as CoDense for very compact code size, StackSafe for automatic detection of stack overflow, PowerBrake for a purely digital way to scale frequency and power without a clock divider, FastWakeUp for Automatic CPU state save/restore for fast power-down/power-up, Andes Custom Extension (ACE) for programmable acceleration and energy reduction through the use of custom instructions, Security for Protection against software attacks and physical attacks, and FlashFetch, which is separate IP to speed up internal Flash and allow execute-in-place external Flash support.
EETE: What about voltage scaling for low power?
Andes can also support dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS), Lin said but that requires foundry support as well as hard IP assistance.
Andes is close to the leading edge of manufacturing processes for deployment with designs aimed at 16nm FinFET in development and 20nm and 28nm CMOS chips in production, he added.
Andes is also familiar with the low-voltage process variants being produced by TSMC and other foundries. "Five years ago we started working with TSMC on a super low voltage 55nm process. We applied our N8 core and had it running at 0.48V in 55nm CMOS," said Lin.
EETE: What markets are Andes cores suitable for?
FL: "We provide deeply embedded controllers for 32 bit MCU, IoT, artificial intelligence, multimedia, virtual reality, touch panel controller, deep learning, ADAS, housekeeping controller, cloud computing controller, networking, video codec, timing controller, event recorder, wireless charging; wireless connectivity WiFi/BT/GPS, Zigbee and Near Field Communications NFC, for security application such as Security SD controller, Security USB controller; flash-based storage controller in solid-state drives, memory card controllers, USB drives, sensor hubs; and wireless displays such as 8K4K TV encoder, 4K2K TV codec, H.264/H.265 codec and so on," Lin said.
"Andes is good for all embedded and deeply embedded applications and we have an open ecosystem and third-party support. But for things like Apple iOS and Android applications we are far behind," Lin added.