Soft Machines’ VISC Processor Takes an Unorthodox Approach
Excuse me while I juggle these flaming chainsaws. While riding a unicycle on a tightrope crossing over Niagara Falls. Blindfolded. Challenging enough for ya?
That’s essentially what a new company called Soft Machines is attempting. It’s a new firm with an entirely new microprocessor design that is taking on the two toughest challenges in the business: how to increase performance while reducing power, and how to run programs written for other processors. Oh, and they’re competing with ARM for embedded RISC processor cores. And then they’ll be taking on Intel and AMD with x86 processors. Challenging enough for ya?
It’s not every day you get to see a brand new microprocessor company. What do you think this is – 1998? Yet Soft Machines thinks it’s cracked the secret code to making embedded processors that are both fast and small, quick yet power-efficient, new yet totally compatible with existing binary code.
Are You Ready for Tomorrow?
There are times when you shouldn't really think too deeply about things. Last week I was driving along the motorway from London to Winchester. While accelerating to overtake, I saw the engine pass through 4,000 rpm, and I wondered about each piston moving from stationary at top dead centre to stationary at bottom dead centre and then back to top dead centre 50 times a second. (Geeky? Moi?) Sadly, I can't perform in my head the sum that would calculate the speed at which each piston was moving at its fastest, but it must be pretty speedy, and that cycle of movement would be putting all sorts of stresses on all sorts of metal parts. I eased my mental stress by consoling myself that, at least in my 15-year-old Golf, there wasn't software running on silicon to control the engine.
So I didn't have to worry that the software could be like that in the Toyotas that may have suffered unintended acceleration. There has been no resolution on whether the software caused the issue. The evidence of software guru Michael Barr was so damning that, while he couldn't say that the software caused the incident, he had the Toyota lawyers worried. Add to this the way in which the opposing legal team were being successful in throwing dust into the eyes of the jury and sowing doubt into their minds, and it is clear why Toyota settled out of court.
Carbon Design Systems Announces the Carbon System Exchange
So I hear you’re going to try to build an SoC. Good luck; you’ve got lots of work ahead.
First you have to come up with an architecture. Then you need to design all of the blocks yourself. Then you need to write all of the software that’s going to run on this beastie. By yourself.
That’s the easy part. When you’re done with that, you have to verify the whole thing. Yes, you have to design everything and finish it all before you can start your verification. I just hope you don’t make any mistakes at the early architecture level.
So, okay then, off you go like a good lad.
To Grandma's PCB We Go
This week’s Fish Fry is all about your next PCB design. From power integrity to mixed-signal place and route, from Gerber files to schematics, from output pins over the FR4 and through the vias, to grandma’s house we go. My first guest this week is Greg Lebsack from Tanner EDA, and we discuss why you want a digital place and route tool, integrating ye ol’ analog into your next design, and what Tanner EDA brings to the mixed-signal party. Next up, we bring in Hemant Shah from Cadence Design Systems to chat about one of the biggest pain points of PCB design: the hand off to manufacturing. Hemant and I investigate a rapidly expanding industry consortium that is hoping to change all of that awful file hand off once and for all.
AMD’s Multi-pronged Strategy Is Certainly Different, But Is It Better?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Is AMD the best microprocessor maker in the world, or the worst? Is the company more competitive than it’s ever been, or about to hit bottom? Are they blazing a trail to success, or on the road to perdition?
Or the real question: Are you planning to buy AMD chips or aren’t you?
Xilinx Heats Up the Race
The problem is programming.
If it were just a straight-up race to see what kind of chip delivers the most processing for the least power, FPGAs would have won long ago. A custom hardware version of just about any algorithm you can name, carefully optimized for FPGA LUT fabric, will run much faster, with less latency and far less power, than anything you can do with any conventional processor.
But what about GPUs?
Yes, that includes GPUs - especially the power part. And these days, it’s getting more and more to the point that power is the ONLY part. In big-iron computing applications such as large datacenters, you could always add more cores, servers, or processors. But you can’t add more processing if you can’t pipe more power into the building or get more heat out. Many datacenters are running up against exactly that issue right now. That’s why you see huge server farms constructed where power is cheap and abundant. And, for the companies that need giant server farms, power is usually the largest business expense.