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ZSP (formerly Infinite Solutions) -- High Performance Superscalar DSPs
Founded: Mar 1996
Status: Acquired by LSI Logic 5/99
Issue(s): 12/96, 3/9
2855 Kifer Rd., Ste. 200
Santa Clara, CA 95051
Tel: 408-986-1686
Fax: 408-986-1687

We first profiled ZSP in Dec. '96. At that time all we knew was that the company was founded in 1995 as Infinite Solutions to make signal processing solutions (i.e. DSPs) for image processing, multimedia and communications markets. The company just recently publicized its plans and now lists its official startup date as March '96. ZSP is a fabless semiconductor supplier with a mission to develop high-performance DSP chips based on its 10X DSP™ architecture. Two rounds of VC financing from Niigata Seimitsu, IBJ, Kankaku Investment, Sumitomo and Tokio Marine raised $10 million. Another round is currently in progress. The company has 41 employees, primarily in R&D.

According to Forward Concepts, the programmable DSP market reached $3 billion in '97, 35% growth from '96, and will grow to a staggering $12 billion by 2001 fueled by modems and wireless communications. ZSP's founding premise is that there is a need for a 10X increase in DSP performance. To date most DSPs have used a conventional multiply/accumulate architecture. To deliver next-generation performance, DSPs must depart from this age-old methodology.

ZSP's 10X DSP™ architecture is superscalar, has a RISC instruction set, a flexible ISA (instruction set architecture), and a simplified memory structure. Instruction grouping and dispatch is automatically handled in hardware. The architecture features a large general-purpose register set and an orthogonal ISA. This makes the devices easy to program and more akin to general-purpose microprocessors then arcane DSPs. While most DSPs are optimized for the multiply-accumulate "inner loop" much of the code development effort addresses non-DSP tasks such as protocol and control code. The 10X DSP architecture seamlessly integrates DSP and uC functionality in a single device. The architecture is highly flexible allowing the number, functionality and mix of processing blocks to be changed; the ISA to be optimized for specific applications; and the datapath to be expanded to accommodate higher performance applications.

The first product based on the 10X DSP architecture is the ZSP16401; a 16-bit fixed-point DSP targeted at base-station, wireless local loop, ISP modems and ADSL applications. The ISA is optimized for speech coding and modem functionality. The device contains 2 ALUs and 2 MACs connected through a 5-stage pipeline and integrates 48Kwords of SRAM. The IC can deliver 400 DSP MIPS based on 200MHz operation and up to 4 instructions/cycle. A FIR filter can run at 400Msamples/sec. Performance is claimed to be equal to TI's C6 1600 MIPS VLIW DSP, while consuming 1/3 the power and significantly reducing the program development effort. At 200MHz the device only consumes 2 watts at 3V. Future ZSP164XX devices will be targeted at portable, consumer and imaging applications. The ZSP32XXX family of 32-bit fixed-point devices will be targeted at high-end video and multimedia applications. The future designs will be customer driven, although a follow-on 16-bit part will probably be introduced towards the end of '98 and a 32-bit device in mid-99.

ZSP has analyzed next-generation DSP requirements and developed an innovative architecture. Traditional DSPs are dated; MAC and DSP add-ons to microprocessors tend to be kludges; dedicated accelerators can limit flexibility, are costly and can complicate software integration; and other superscalar and VLIW architectures are difficult to program. If ZSP's architecture delivers what it promises, it will most certainly succeed in the burgeoning DSP market. Fully function ZSP16401first silicon was delivered in December and customer samples were delivered in Jan. The device is fabricated on a 0.35u, 3V, single-poly, 4-level metal process from TSMC. Sales reps. have been hired in several markets.

Michael Morrissey, chairman, president & CEO (formerly a group VP at KLA Instruments)

Dr. Tak Shigihara, VP, corporate planning (formerly a VP at Wireless Access, Teknekron and a dir. at NEXGEN)

Dr. Suresh Gopalakrishnan, VP, engineering (formerly a Sun UltraSPARC-II eng. mgr.)

Richard Johnson, VP, sales (formerly VP, WW sales at QuickLogic, 8x8 and NCR)

Randall Fahey - dir. of mktg. (formerly a mktg. mgr. at Lucent's GSM IC group)

Michael Hong, dir. of operations

Fu-Hwa Wang, dir. of software development

Thien-Thi Nguyen, software architect & co-founder

Krishna Yarlagadda, a co-founder and formerly president, is no longer with the company.

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