SOC Design

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More on Multicore Design

Market research firm IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts has declared that IC design using multiple processor cores may be one of the most significant industry developments of the past 40 years.

The IDC study is called "Multicore Processing Scenarios, 2005-2009: Disrupting the IT Market in Three Generations?" (IDC #33789).

Monday, August 29, 2005

Two cores, four cores, eight cores, and so on

Last week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel’s President and CEO Paul Otellini estimated that his company would ship over 60 million dual-core Pentium processors over the next 18 months. He also said that the company has ten quad-core projects in the works. Intel has gotten that good ole’ multi-core religion big time, following AMD’s lead with its dual-core Opteron. Although big doings in the PC space often lead to similar developments in the embedded-systems arena, this time the PC processor giants are playing catch-up with the embedded league.

There are many technical reasons for going to multiple processor cores. First, this approach allows the system design to cut clock rate and thus operating power. Cut clock rate by 50% and a variety of factors will result in a power reduction of more than 50%, which more than makes up for the extra power needed to run the added processor.

Cutting the clock rate eases memory-access timing, which is another big plus for system designers. Cutting clock rate also allows the chip designers to back away from the bleeding edge of IC-fabrication technology. These factors cut manufacturing costs.

Finally, adding more processor cores to a chip allows IC designers to do something really useful with all of those extra transistors Moore’s Law keeps dumping on our doorsteps. Instead of spending these transistors on increasingly complex processor architectures that get only a few percent faster for the effort, adding another processor core can substantially boost system performance, if the system software is written correctly.

Intel’s and AMD’s move towards multiple-core processors is potentially good news for embedded system designers because PC programmers, a group larger by far than embedded-system programmers, will start to think in terms of getting tasks done with multiple processors. We will start to leave the “one-big-processor” paradigm behind. Because many embedded-systems programmers first learn their craft on PCs, this trend bodes well for all system design.