TI E2E Community
On the fringe
A buck a billion
Gene FrantzTI Principal Fellow, Futurist and Business Development Manager, DSP
Last year I spent a lot of time looking at where our industry would be in the year 2020 (see 2-6-08 blog here) and came up with some interesting predictions on everything from where architectures would be to what software would look like, SoCs and even multicore designs, etc. I will be adding some of those predictions to my blog in the coming weeks. In doing that exercise, one of the amazing results was the thought that in the year 2020, a billion transistors would be able to be integrated onto one piece of silicon for about a production cost of one US dollar. Or to put it in slang, transistors would be “a buck a billion.”
Wow, a buck a billion, what would our customers be able to do with that and what might this mean to us? I can think of several implications:
· What am I going to do with billions of transistors?
· How does this change the way I do IC design?
· How does this affect performance and power dissipation?
What can I do with a billion transistors?
When I give lectures on innovation at universities and conferences, I generally end with this statement:
“Technology will not be the limiting aspect of innovation. What will limit us is our inability to figure out how to take full advantage of the technology.”
What I am doing when I say this is to actually pose a challenge to systems innovators to stretch their imaginations to a point where they have nothing limiting their ideas – particularly technology. And, yes, I’m still waiting for the brilliant new product ideas that will need a billion transistors. But please keep in mind that we like to create devices that sell for $10.00 to $100.00. So no one should limit themselves to only one billion transistors but tens of billions of transistors.
It seems that the only obvious use is mass storage. I certainly hope this is not the ultimate innovation for billions of transistors.
How will this change the way we create ICs?
Several years ago we announced a new technology node that would allow us to integrate 100 million transistors on one device. I was asked to put some reality to what this meant. I summarized with two ideas:
· At that time a PC with all of its processors and memory added up to about 100 million transistors. So, a complete PC on a chip was a good mental picture of the magnitude of transistors we were considering.
· The design of a 100 million transistor device could not be done from scratch. The math was simple, if the average time to complete the design, per transistor, were one staff hour it would take a total of 100 million staff hours. Since there are roughly 2000 staff hours per staff year, this comes to fifty thousand staff years to complete a design from scratch. Other methods would need to be invented in order to design a device with that many transistors.
One method, for example, is one I call “sloppy design.” With all of the transistors we can be sloppy in our design. We can use extra transistors to make it simple. We can use microprocessors with a lot of memory rather that a custom devices which efficiently uses all of the transistors. Programmability will continue to be our primary way of being sloppy.
How about performance and power dissipation?
It is this sloppy design concept that has given, and will continue to give us, higher performance and lower power dissipation.
· With more transistors I can increase the performance. We call it multi-processing including the use of accelerators along with microprocessors.
· With more transistors we can lower our power dissipation. We do this by either turning things off when not being used (I call this the father’s solution to low power), or use multiple processors at lower clock speeds and lower voltages to do the same task.
So, what will we do with billions of transistors?
· We’ll drive sloppy design to an art form (but we’ll call it something more technically brilliant).
· We’ll drive higher performance and lower power dissipation using more transistors.
· And, with any luck, we’ll figure out how to do things we could never do before.
What are your thoughts? What would you do with a billion transistors for a buck?
- mobile devices that serve all communication, personal entertainment payment, access (no more keys) needs
- smart highways with real time traffic. auto pilot.
I am not sure if the above really NEED a billion transistors, but they require some heavy lifting.
On sloppy design: applications are not as optimized as they used to be - blame cheaper RAM? Will it go the same way as processing and storage goes cheaper?
gg Software defined Digital Radios appear to be prime contender to top table on the basis of number of transistors that are used in a device or for a application. For example, when we drive on road, it is easy (not always!!!) to find out road signs and drive towards destination that we planed to reach. Since car is going on a road which has finite possible bifurcation (may be with in 10, at most) at a given stage and as a driver we choose a bifurcation (branching from main line) that lead to our planned destination. On similar note, if we look at Wireless device which is looking for available spectrum (center frequency and bandwidth) to communicate with other device which is our destination. In car example, destination is static and is fixed (mostly!!! Assuming that, we don’t chase a person who is running away by taking our Satellite Radio receiver or equivalent cash). In a Wireless device, target device need to know on what channel we are driving information is prime question. Just imagine, how much computing power required if target device has to find channel in which we are communicating!!. On other hand, at source device, it is also required to find out channel availability at a given point of time. Things become more interesting if defined communication channels are having narrow bandwidth and they need to communicate with in a second.
I think, we need massive numbers or array of transistors to perform real time channel sensing and source device identification. In fact discussed application can be very much true in nature to have as part of day today life in school environment. If we consider Indian Primary and high schools, we have close to 2000 students (approximately). Each student have his/her won software defined radio unit and trying to communicate with another student in same school. Assume that there is no centralized server does all kind of book keeping and monitoring each student. Thus, each student radio unit to find out available channel to communicate (may be 10 KHz FM or FSK channel) with other student whose Radio unit ID is known. Similarly, receiving unit need to search all possible channels to check whether he/she has request or message from other student for communication. Mobile service proving companies might HATE this idea but in reality it might turn out to be future. Based on response from Gene, I will put some more effort in refining the above though process.
Long live Freedom and human beings is not slave to other human being or other instrument or device.
What would I do with ten billion transistors for a dollar?
I would add nine dollars more and solve the processing power problems these researchers have, producing another astonishing TI DSP thingie that fits in the hand and can be raced 'round the body with ease whilst running on a watch battery.
That would completely prove the basis for the ancient Chinese medicine of Acupuncture, turning an ancient medical art into a technologically based practice.
Which would prove the existence of acupuncture points at all scales including the geophysical.
Which would begin the exploration of an entirely new form of physics.
Which would lead to an entirely new kind of civilization.
And I've got two twenties in my wallet. The Galaxy trembles!
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