Wednesday, November 26


Getting to Giga

Here's a good article on the future of microprocessor design in the era of billion-transistor chips.

The free ride chip designers got from the lithography* people ended, pretty much, at the 0.25 micron node. One of the big side effects of this is that power consumption is now going up rather than down, as you may have guessed if you have looked inside a late-model computer. The enormous fan bolted directly onto the CPU is something of a giveaway.

My new computer - or at least the processor, since I don't have the rest of the parts just yet - is around four thousand times faster than my faithful Amiga 1000. We're going to see a similar increase in performance over the next 15 years, but it will be a little different this time. We are likely to get more processors rather than just faster ones, and lots of special-function circuits. When you have a billion transistors to play with, but a fixed power budget, the priorities for the chip designers change drastically.

Um, read the article. It's got pictures! Well, graphs, anyway.

* Lithography means writing in stone. It was invented as a new printing technique in the late 18th century, but the term has now been recycled to mean the production of silicon chips. (Or at least, a key stage in their production.) Ironically, the original stone used for lithography was limestone, which is calcium carbonate and contains no silicon at all.

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