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Rambus' Horowitz: Talks on the Semiconductor Industry's Future

Feb 11 2014, 2:13am CST | by

Rambus' Horowitz: Talks on the Semiconductor Industry's Future

Attendees of the 60th annual International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) hosted by the IEEE got a real treat on Monday.  Rambus founder Mark Horowitz shared his studied view of the outlook for the semiconductor industry over the next several years.

Let me interrupt myself to explain that ISSCC is an annual gathering of the best and the brightest of the R&D labs of major semiconductor manufacturers, universities, research consortiums, and others whose research has been selected by a panel that seeks out the best and most innovative semiconductor designs with a chance of highly impacting the future.

Horowitz’ presentation carried the title: Computing’s Energy Problem (and what we can do about it).  The presentation very clearly stepped through the problems the world of semiconductors face today, and presented some very positive views on how we can progress despite some significant physical limits that will change semiconductors from “Business as usual” to “Here’s something totally new!”

Horowitz pointed out that nearly all electronic systems are energy-limited, from the computers in your Bluetooth headset, to the ones that answer the questions that you type into Google.   This energy limit was offered up to attain higher performance, and now that the energy scaling of gates has slowed down we are under great pressure to find another approach to bring increasing performance to users without depleting their batteries or creating excessive heat.

One of his questions concerned how a modern web-server farm could be made more efficient. Although CPUs have been optimized for power vs. performance, memory and I/O-system energy has continued to increase and now consumes over half of a system’s power.

Researchers have found it possible to reduce energy consumption by using ASICs, which can be three orders of magnitude more efficient than processors, yet the memory system’s energy consumption still dominates.

Horowitz showed that the answer lies in choosing the applications that best fit ASICs.  It is key to harness this technology for applications that use more short-integer operations and extremely local storage, and to delegate those with floating point operations and dispersed storage to general-purpose processors.

In the end, though, the good doctor told us that we must focus on tapping into applications experts to produce applications programs.  This will open new horizons that have mass appeal and that no longer depend upon brute-force clock speed and compute horsepower to achieve success.

Source: Forbes

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