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The Zii Mystery Is Unravelled – Creative’s Nano-Sized Supercomputer

About two weeks back Creative put up a teaser site about something called the Zii. Today, VR-Zone brings you the full story on this pint-sized computer.

About two weeks ago Creative put up a teaser site about something called the Zii. It quite obviously wasn’t a sound chip, so everyone was left wondering what Creative had gotten up to this time.

A short while ago we finally got to know what this Zii thing actually is. The Zii is a System-on-a-Chip, comprising a processor, motherboard, SDK, middleware, operating system etc. In case you’re wondering, Zii stands for ZEN II, or Zen 2nd Generation.

Soon to be officially unveiled at CES, the Zii may well become one of the most important products ever launched by Creative, perhaps even surpassing the Sound Blaster of yore. Creative has invested many years and more than US$1b into the development of the Zii, which will form the core of many future Creative products.

If you remember Creative’s buyover of 3DLabs back in 2002, it’s now clear that the intention was to get hold of 3DLabs’ next generation graphics architecture, rumored at the time to be highly scalable and programmable. Between that time and now the only chip that has come out of 3DLabs is the DMS-02 application processor, which is also ARM based and fully programmable.

The 3DLabs brand will soon be no more though, as Creative will shortly be announcing the formation of Zii Labs, comprised of former 3DLabs personnel as well as some staff from Creative Labs’ Personal Digital Entertainment group. Their first product is none other than the Zii, or in more technical parlance the ZMS-05 SoC.

Each ZMS-05 SoC has dual ARM-926 cores with 48 programmable processor elements (PE) churning out 10GFlops of processing power. The chip is able to re-program itself in real-time to suit the needs of the application being executed, so there’s probably a software stack on top controlling the PEs.

In addition, the Zii chip has the ability to shut down unused PEs and wake them up when necessary, thus saving power. For instance, more PEs will be activated when performing intensive tasks such as  playing 3D games or playing back HD videos.

The advantage of this design is unlimited scalability. Creative is claiming a Teraflop computer with the footprint of an A4 sheet, and a Petaflop super computer with 147456 ZMS chips in 576 blade servers.

Creative’s main competitors will not be the x86 arena dominated by Intel and AMD, but rather other ARM manufacturers, such as Texas Instruments, Freescale, and more recently Nvidia with its Tegra SoC.

The Zii looks to have various potential markets, including some of the most lucrative such as mobile phones, handhelds, set top boxes, media players etc. It’s plausible, though not certain, that the Zii might spark off a turnaround for Creative, which has been seeing falling margins for some time now.

Creative is going to make the SDKs available to developers today, and is also working with many OEM partners worldwide to bring out products based on the ZMS. One familiar name is MSI, which will be working closely with ZiiLABS for their future low cost, high performance Internet-ready devices.

Still, the very first Zii-based products are likely to be Creative-branded – VR-Zone has learned that the first one is an iPhone-like device. We will continue to dig out more details about this, so stay tuned!

Please head over to http://www.zii.com/ and http://www.ziilabs.com/ for more information

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