Although multicore and multiprocessor technologies have started to proliferate in the embedded market, smartphone manufacturers are in the midst of a rapid shift to multicores due the market transistion from business users to consumers. It’s becoming evident that in order for handset manufactures to differentiated their products, a feature war has commenced: wireless connectivity, video/flash/audio playback and even video creation/editing/conferencing have become are market drivers.
CPU designers have already responded to this need, just last week ARM announced its next generation of Cortex™-A15 MPCore™ design and Intel entered the smartphone cpu market earlier this year with the new Atom Z6 core.
For perspective, in a short few years mobile handset industry has had to move from relatively simple devices supporting cellular communication and user-interface tasks to multicore/multi-chip designs in order to grow features and thus market share. Until the arrival of power-aware multicore and heterogeneous chipsets, cellular devices have been limited by computational horsepower, power envelopes and time-to-market issues.
In any market with tremendous competition, time-to-market is crucial and one of the fastest methods to add features within the tight power budget is to add additional task-specialized silicon either as heterogeneous cores or chips from third-party suppliers that can be put to sleep or turned off entirely when not required.
Feature growth has in turn placed new burdens on mobile software development teams. Leaving the comfortable environment of a single core means addressing potential threading/concurrency problems and endian ordering issues when integer data is transmitted off-core.
Klocwork commissioned VDC Research to quantify the business impact of moving to multicore/multiprocessor environments and the results of this growing complexity is stark: multicore and multiprocessor software projects are
- 4.5X more expensive,
- have 25% longer schedules,
- and require almost 3x as many software engineers.
Embedded and especially smartphone development teams need to be gearing up for the feature arms race to come and should be looking at methods to mitigate theses impacts by implementing productivity tools like static analysis and automated code reviews sooner than later.
 VDC Research, “Next Generation Embedded Hardware Architectures: Driving Onset of Project Delays, Costs Overruns, and Software Development Challenges”, September 2010.