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Implantable microsystems for monitoring or manipulating brain activity typically require on-chip real-time processing of multichannel neural data using ultra low-power, miniaturized electronics. In this paper, we propose an integrated-circuit/architecture-level hardware design framework for neural signal processing that exploits the nature of the signal-processing algorithm. First, we consider different power reduction techniques and compare the energy efficiency between the ultra-low frequency subthreshold and conventional superthreshold design. We show that the superthreshold design operating at a much higher frequency can achieve comparable energy dissipation by taking advantage of extensive power gating. It also provides significantly higher robustness of operation and yield under large process variations. Next, we propose an architecture level preferential design approach for further energy reduction by isolating the critical computation blocks (with respect to the quality of the output signal) and assigning them higher delay margins compared to the noncritical ones. Possible delay failures under parameter variations are confined to the noncritical components, allowing graceful degradation in quality under voltage scaling. Simulation results using prerecorded neural data from the sea-slug (Aplysia californica) show that the application of the proposed design approach can lead to significant improvement in total energy, without compromising the output signal quality under process variations, compared to conventional design approaches.