Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Why DSP's have little impact on third party programs-revisiting the DSP-o-rama

When the Tungsten T was introduced, it had a 144MhZ ARM CPU. Most reviewers considered the machine on par even with 400MhZ XScale units because of the DSP integrated into the OMAP1510 core. When the Zire 71 came out, it used the OMAP310 CPU without DSP core. Users experienced no slowdowns though, the Zire 71 benchmarked at 111, the TT at 109 speedy-MhZ. Now, this is interesting. The DSP has no impact on Speedy. But what is their perpetual task in life, then?
DSP's can do some things very, very fast-lets take the MultiplyAccumulate instruction as an example. While a regular CPU would take a few cycles to complete one MAC, most DSP's can do it in one cycle-if they get a go at it. However, the licencees usually do not publish the SDKs that are required. Thus, the DSP is sitting in the device and eats power, but does little to nothing for the users. The ARM part does all the calculation, and the DSP sits idly. I once heard that the only DSP useage on the TT was the filter for the output sound that was removed with the audio patch. This may be true or not-but pretty much proves my point.
And-even if the SDK's were available, third-party developers will still not be too motivated to support these chips. Every handheld has a different DSP-and thus the assembler code needs to be rewritten for each chip series. There are lots of different chip series on the market-as long as PalmSource does not select an architecture and creates a SDK, the Palm platform will miss out on this support.
Let's face it-the DSP parts of the OMAP and Sony handheld engined don't help the average application. They look nice on the datasheet-but that is it.
BTW-what do you think? Do you have one of these elusive SDK's-or some experience? Feel free to comment.


Blogger Ben Combee said...

DSPs aren't going to be accessible from user code, but they can make a difference. The Tungsten T is a bad example. A better one would be the Zire 72. While it doesn't have a separate DSP, it does have DSP-like extensions to the ARM architecture as part of its XScale legacy, and those instructions are being used by the codecs supplied on the device. Those codecs are exposed to developers through palmOne's SDK, making it easy to make a media playback program.

In Palm OS Cobalt, there will be a platform standard way to support codecs, so that should give licensees incentives to expose those even more.

Finally, the big area where DSPs make a difference is telephony. As we move to single-core devices, the DSP will be used for a number of key functions in signal and sound processing to make smartphones more powerful.

1:46 AM  
Blogger Tam Hanna said...

Hi Ben,
thank you for the nice and detailled answer. it is really a pleasure to see bloggers post such interesting comments!
BTW, something else-while you are perfectly right about all your assumptions, I wanted to make something different clear. I just wanted to explain that a DSP has very little impact on device performance in regular applications..
Best regards
Tam Hanna

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