Report: Broadwell to feature audio DSP for low-power playback, speech recognition

PC audio is getting interesting again. We already know that AMD has integrated DSP hardware into some of its latest Radeons. Now, it looks like Intel is doing something similar with its next-gen platform hub. According to slides posted by VR-Zone, the chipset accompanying Intel's 14-nm Broadwell processors will have an integrated DSP charged with powering Smart Sound Technology.

Unlike AMD's TrueAudio tech, which is designed to improve positional audio and surround-sound virtualization for games, Intel's approach seems focused on lowering power consumption and improving speech recognition. The slides suggest the Smart Sound DSP will handle real-time mixing, decoding, and post processing—all of which it will do more efficiently than the CPU.

Interestingly, the DSP will be able to play audio even when the system is in Windows 8's low-power Connected Standby mode. That capability already exists in some Atom processors, which may have an early version of the DSP destined for Broadwell. The datasheet for the Clover Trail-based Atom Z2760 (PDF) mentions a 24-bit audio processor associated with an earlier version of Smart Sound Technology. That datasheet's SoC diagram shows an audio DSP, too.

We haven't heard anything about speech recognition related to the Atom's Smart Sound implementation. However, the Broadwell DSP's Connected Standby functionality extends to recording, allowing it to listen for voice commands while the system is sleeping. This capability will hook into "Genie" personal assistant software that will respond to the user's commands. The recognition engine is apparently accurate enough to identify different voices, but it's not robust enough to be used as a password replacement.

Speech recognition has become an important feature for smartphones, and I use it all the time to avoid typing on touchscreen keyboards. There's definitely room for improvement, though, and I'm curious to see what Intel can do with dedicated hardware. If more advanced Smart Sound capabilities are coming to Broadwell, it seems likely that similar functionality will make its way to the Atom family. At least some of the groundwork has been laid already.

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