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.
HCC Embedded Strikes Efficiency/Freedom Balance
We humans are funny creatures. When it comes to how we organize ourselves, we like for someone to be in charge. But we don’t want them to be too much in charge. Exactly how that balance is set is a point of constant friction around the world, and there’s no one right setpoint for everyone or every culture.
System design inherits this ambivalence. We don’t want chaos, but we want maximal individual freedom and flexibility. So we want standards, but not too many. And we like reference designs, but we want to be able to customize them and make them our own.
It’s all about adding value: we all want to build something that’s uniquely us. From a business standpoint, we’re hoping that “that special something” will excite customers and become a sales differentiator. But, while we want to put our custom touches on it, we don’t want to develop everything from scratch, and we tend to eschew redundancy as being inefficient (unless it’s a requirement for safety purposes, in which case we go along begrudgingly).
Merit Systems and MEMS in the Medical Machine
Last week, we investigated how new MEMS-enhanced devices are changing the way we interact with our tennis rackets, beer kegs, and video games (you know, the important stuff), but this week, we’re going past the world of CE to a land where the power budgets are tight, the BOMs are tighter, and the number of sensors soars into the millions. Yep, we’re talking about MEMS in the medical machine. My guest is Rick Russell, President of Merit Sensor Systems. Rick is here to introduce us to a whole new world of pressure sensors, explain why Merit has their own wafer fab, and map out where the MEMS market is headed in the future. Then, keeping with our medical theme, we also check out a new MEMS-enhanced eating-sensing earpiece looking for some Indigogo cash that will not only listen to your bites but also have you talking to your food.
SynthOS Tool Generates Custom RTOS From Standard C Code
Pop quiz: When is an operating system not an operating system?
Answer: When it’s your own code, acting as if it were an operating system. Sound interesting? Or just confusing? Read on, Dear Programmer.
We’re all familiar with standard embedded operating systems such as Linux, Android, LynxOS, ThreadX, uCOS, and so forth. They’re all great products, and they all have hundreds of loyal and happy users. That’s splendid.
But regardless of your particular OS allegiance, you have to admit that you are limited to a small number of choices. In other words, while there are nearly infinite variations in embedded hardware, there’s a limited number of possibilities for embedded operating systems. There are a zillion different MCUs and CPUs, but only a handful of RTOS options. Hardware spans a continuum, while software is more of a step function. Why is that?
Sensors Stay Steady
On April 19, 1965, Electronics magazine ran an article called “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits.” It was written by an engineer from Fairchild Semiconductor, and it contained a simple prediction that turned out to be the trend that changed the world. Gordon Moore’s article is the reference point for the explosive growth in semiconductor capability that has lasted for almost fifty years now.
In that same year, there was another article in that same magazine describing a device invented by Harvey Nathanson of Westinghouse Labs that combined a tungsten rod over a transistor to form a “microscopic frequency selective device” - the very first MEMS device. The device was later patented as the “Resonant Gate Transistor.”
So - MEMS and logic transistors have both been around for almost fifty years. And, since MEMS and logic transistors are fabricated in the same factories, using the same techniques, and used in the same systems, there is a natural temptation to draw correlations between them.