Microprocessor vs Intellectual Property Core | Microprocessor vs. Core | Microprocessor vs. IP Core | Processor vs. Core | Processor vs. IP Core
A microprocessor, also known as a Central Processing Unit (CPU), is an Integrated Circuit (IC), which is the brain of a computing system that performs the “computations” which are given as instructions through a computer program. Microprocessors are not only used in personal computers and servers, but also shipped with billions of embedded systems (such as mobile phones, PDAs, walkmans, etc.) sold every year. An IP Core is the design layout of a logical system and, therefore, is not a physical system. Typically, an IP Core can be and is fabricated into a physical microprocessor. At times, in a microprocessor you will be able to fabricate multiple IP cores forming multi-core microprocessors.
The term microprocessor is used in computing systems for more than four decades now, and it was the only processing unit in the early computers until “other” processing units (such as GPUs) were introduced to complement the processing power of a computing system. Intel 4004 is attributed for the first ever microprocessor and was made public in 1971 by Intel Corporation. A microprocessor is meaningful only when you have a computing system that is “programmable” (so that it can execute instructions) and we should note that the CPU is the “Central” processing unit, the unit that controls the other units/parts of a computing system. In today’s context, a microprocessor typically contains the CPU and is a single silicon chip.
Intellectual Property Core
Intellectual Property Core in semiconductor, aka IP Core or Core, is a reusable logic design that is typically the intellectual property of a particular person or a company. Therefore, an IP Core is more of a concept (design) rather than a physical implementation. To take something similar, if a microprocessor is a building, an IP core is the building layout or the blueprint of the building. Therefore, the design, which is the IP core, can be sold or licensed to a third party so that they can go and fabricate processors with the particular design. Generally, IP cores are categorized into two based on how they are represented. If they are represented at a higher level such as in RTL (Register Transfer Level), they are called soft cores, and if they are represented at a lower level such as in gate level net-lists, then they are called hard cores. While the former representation is generally easier to modify and adapt, the later is not modifiable with reasonable effort.
The term core has reached the common person better with the introduction of “multi-core processors”. The idea of a multi-core processor is to have more than one IP core (the design) replicated in the fabrication of a single microprocessor (and therefore in a single chip). Therefore, in a single core processor, the IP core (or the design) is fabricated on a single microprocessor without replication.
What is the difference between Microprocessor and Intellectual Property Core?
• While a microprocessor is a physical implementation of a logic design, an IP core is the design (or the layout) itself. Therefore, it is also possible to see an IP core as the “core” of a microprocessor and as such calling it “microprocessor core”.
• Commercially, the term core (or microprocessor core) is used to refer to the number of similar logic design (or layout) replicated inside a single microprocessor: Therefore, a dual-core processor will have two similar design duplicated in a microprocessor and a quad-core processor will have four similar design replicated.
• Typically, the number of cores you have in a microprocessor will be a factor on deciding the number of threads (applications) that you can run on a computer at the same time (in parallel).