Historically, processors from the PowerPC® family, now known as Power Architecture® processors, have been the dominant choice for implementing Digital Signal Processing (DSP) in high-performance embedded military applications that take advantage of open-system commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. These applications include radar, signal intelligence, sonar, and image processing. Today, however, beginning with the dual-core Intel Core™ i7 processors, the low-power, high-performance advantages of the Intel architecture processor technology can be used for the first time to design DSP engines for the rugged deployed COTS signal processing space.

In the early 1990s, systems were implemented largely with specialized processors such as the Intel® i860 processor, the Texas Instruments 320C40, and the Analog Devices SHARC®. These processors were popular because of their floating-point performance.

altIn the late 1990s, Analog Devices and Texas Instruments introduced follow-on processors, the TigerSHARC® and 320C6701, respectively. Both had limited success, partly due to lack of software compatibility with their predecessors. The PowerPC processor from the Apple®/IBM®/Motorola® alliance, intended for personal computer use to compete with Intel x86-based processors, was also introduced at this time. Its reduced instruction set computer (RISC)architecture was touted to be the future of high-performance microprocessors. But it was the introduction of the AltiVec™ instruction unit in the Motorola PowerPC 7400 (G4) that truly changed the signal processing landscape.

Signal processing experts soon realized that the floating-point-capable AltiVec unit could greatly accelerate the innerloop processing found in common functions such as fast Fourier transforms (FFTs). The ability to perform up to four simultaneous floating-point multiplies and additions was revolutionary. Consequently, the PowerPC with AltiVec has had a long run in the military market with a continuous succession of faster processors, ending with the MPC8640/8641.