computers mobile technology

AnandTech – Qualcomms New Snapdragon S4: MSM8960 & Krait Architecture Explored

Qualcomm remains the only active player in the smartphone/tablet space that uses its architecture license to put out custom designs. The benefit to a custom design is typically better power and performance characteristics compared to the more easily synthesizable designs you get directly from ARM. The downside is development time and costs go up tremendously.

via AnandTech – Qualcomms New Snapdragon S4: MSM8960 & Krait Architecture Explored.

The snapdragon cpu
From the Qualcomm Website: Snapdragon

I’m very curious to see how the different ARM based processors fair against one anther in each successive generation. Especially the move to ARM-15 (x64) none of which will see a quick implementation on a handheld mobile device. ARM-15 is a long ways off yet, but it appears in spite of the next big thing in ARM designed cores, there’s a ton of incremental improvements and evolutionary progress being made on current generation ARM cores. ARM-8 and ARM-9 have a lot of life in them for the foreseeable future including die shrinks that allow either faster clock speeds or constant clock speeds and lower power drain and lower Thermal Design Point (TDP).

Apple’s also going steadily towards the die shrink in order to cement current gains made in it’s A5 chip design too. Taiwan Manfucturing Semi-Conductor (TMSC) is the biggest partner in this direction and is attempting to run the next iteration of Apple mobile processors on its state of the art 22 nanometer design rule process.

gpu mobile science & technology

ARM vet: The CPUs future is threatened • The Register

8-inch silicon wafer with multiple intel Penti...
Image via Wikipedia

Harkening back to when he joined ARM, Segars said: “2G, back in the early 90s, was a hard problem. It was solved with a general-purpose processor, DSP, and a bit of control logic, but essentially it was a programmable thing. It was hard then – but by todays standards that was a complete walk in the park.”

He wasn’t merely indulging in “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” old-guy nostalgia. He had a point to make about increasing silicon complexity – and he had figures to back it up: “A 4G modem,” he said, “which is going to deliver about 100X the bandwidth … is going to be about 500 times more complex than a 2G solution.”

via ARM vet: The CPUs future is threatened • The Register.

A very interesting look a the state of the art in microprocessor manufacturing, The Register talks with one of the principles at ARM, the folks who license their processor designs to almost every cell phone manufacturer worldwide. Looking at the trends in manufacturing, Simon Segars is predicting a more difficult level of sustained performance gains in the near future. Most advancement he feels will be had by integrating more kinds of processing and coordinating the I/O between those processors on the same processor die. Which is kind of what Intel is attempting to do integrating graphics cores, memory controllers and CPU all on one slice of silicon. But the software integration is the trickiest part, and Intel still sees fit to just add more general purpose CPU cores to continue making new sales. Processor clocks stay pretty rigidly near the 3GHz boundary and have not shifted significantly since the end of the Pentium IV era.

Note too, the difficulty of scaling up as well as designing the next gen chips. Referring back to my article from Dec.21,  2010; 450mm wafers (commentary on Electronista article), Intel is the only company rich enough to scale up to the next size of wafer. Every step in the manufacturing process has become so specialized that the motivation to create new devices for manufacture and test just isn’t there because the total number of manufacturers who can scale up to the next largest size of silicon wafer is probably 4 companies worldwide. That’s a measure of how exorbitantly expensive large scale chip manufacturing has become. It seems more and more a plateau is being reached in terms of clock speeds and the size of wafers finished in manufacturing. With these limits, Simon Segars thesis becomes even stronger.

computers science & technology technology

Moore’s Law to take a breather • The Register

Back in the days of Byte magazine still being published, there was a lot of talk and speculation about new technology to create smaller microchips. Some manufacturers were touting Extreme UV, some thought X-rays would be necessary. In the years since then a small modification of existing manufacturing methods was added.

“Immersion” lithography, or exposing lithography masks using water as the means of transmission rather than air was widely adopted to shrink things down. Dipping everything into optically clear water helps keep the UV light from scattering, the way it would if it were travelling through air or a simple vacuum. So immersion has become widespread, adding years to the old technology. Now even the old style UV processes are hitting the end of their useful life times.And Intel is at last touting Extreme UV as the next big thing.

Note this article from April 22, 2008. Intel was not at all confident in how cost effective Extreme UV would be for making chips on it’s production lines. The belief is EUV will allow chips to shrink from 32 nanometers down to the next lower process design rules. According to the article that would be the 22nm level, and would require all kinds fo tricks to achieve. Stuff like double-patterning, phase-shifting, and pixellated exposure masks in addition to immersion litho. They might be able to tweak the lens material for the exposure source, they might be able to tweak the refractive index of the immersion liquid. However the cost of production lines and masks to make the chips is going to sky-rocket. Brand new chip fab plants are still on the order of $1Billion+ to construct. The number of years the cost of those fabrication lines can be spread out (amortization) is not going to be long enough. So it looks like the commoditization of microchips will finally settle in. We will buy chips for less and less per 1,000, until they are like lightbulbs. It is very near the end of an era as Moore’s law finally hits the wall of physics.

Diminishing Returns of process shrinks

iSuppli is not talking about these problems, at least not today. But what the analysts at the chip watcher are pondering is the cost of each successive chip-making technology and the desire of chip makers not to go broke just to prove Moore’s Law right.

via iSuppli: Moore’s Law to take a breather • The Register.