Why Silicon Features are so Important Now - What Went Wrong?
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In processors, there are two main types of power loss. The dominant one over the years has been the switching losses. This is the power lost and converted into heat when the transistors move from a 0 to a 1 position, and vice versa. These can also be identified as capacitive losses. The second type is known as leakage current losses. Previously, leakage current losses have been so small that they could be ignored in early analysis of a design. As process designs have gone along however, it has been getting exponentially larger. With the shift to 90 nanometers, the processor crossed that point where leakage current losses get very large, very quickly. All of a sudden, leakage current losses are the dominant cause of heat dissipation. This is due to electrons getting out of the channel where they are supposed to be following, taking their own path somewhere else, which causes them to be transferred into heat loss.
When dealing with power in silicon devices, and moving from one process to another, things move along an exponential curve. What this means, is at some point, the curve starts increasing much, much faster than it would if it followed a linear model.
What does this mean to future processor design? To put it succinctly, people should get ready to be bombarded with feature addition, as opposed to gigantic clock speed advances. AMD has been ahead of the curve here. First with the x86-64 instruction set extensions, as well as the onboard memory controller on their Hammer cored CPUs; these are the types of selling points that will be coming along in the future.
The next big thing announced are the multi-core processors I mentioned. Intel is already planning on releasing dual Prescottís on one die. While Iím not sure how that is going to work -- one Presscott is hard enough to cool efficiently, dealing with two hot cores together is going to be very interesting indeed Ė Intelís also announced the cessation of future projects like Tejas and Jayhawk, which were supposed to supersede Prescott and Prestonia, while using the same Netburst core. In a future article, Iíll get into what Inteís replaced those future products with, and what it means to you the consumer. (All Iíll say is itís something Iím very excited about and certainly look forward to testing eventually.)
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