Soft Machines Uses Combination of Tricks to Improve Performance
Still trying to juggle those flaming chainsaws? Splendid, because now we’re going to see how it’s done.
Last week we introduced Soft Machines and its VISC processor, a new CPU design that runs native ARM code even though it’s not an ARM processor. Soft Machines says VISC can also be tailored to run x86 code, Java code, or just about anything else the company decides is worthwhile. It’s a tabula rasa microprocessor: able to run just about anything you throw at it.
Its other major trick is that it can extract more single-thread performance out of a given binary program than any other CPU. And do so without expending a horrendous number of transistors or consuming planetary levels of energy. Let’s start with that part.
Separate Flows Target Software and Hardware
The problem... is you.
I know, it seems a bit harsh, blaming FPGA designers for restricting the expansion of the FPGA market. After all, FPGA designers are the fans, right? We are the loyal, the ones who have supported the technology all these decades, the ones who have toiled and struggled and applied our customer-side creativity to help solve the myriad challenges associated with getting one of the coolest and oddest chip architectures ever invented to behave well enough for actual system use.
How Wide Is Your Outer Ring?
In the fall of last year, I made a stab at proposing a structure for what I perceived as the Internet of Things (IoT). I later realized that there are bigger differences than I had appreciated between the various IoT incarnations: consumer, industrial, and maybe even enterprise (I haven’t really dug into that last one yet). So the first “IoT Breakdown” really applies only to the Consumer IoT (CIoT).
But there’s a word floating around lately, one that has traditionally been used in the description of networks, that got me thinking again. I first noticed it when discussing the Hyperweave technology, which brings WiFi directly to sensors. And I started hearing it again in the last few weeks of conferences.
That word is “edge.”
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.