Feeds

Honey I shrunk the chip ... now what?

Lumpy atoms

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Bigger is better in pastries, paychecks and bank accounts, but not in electronics. A recent story in HPCwire caught my interest and got me thinking about what the end of the shrink road might portend – and the potential alternatives.

The ability to steadily shrink the size of the processor brains that drive computers – and pretty much everything else – has driven computer performance since the advent of the microprocessor.

But now that we are at 32nm (nanometer) and moving toward 16nm and even 14nm (see Intel’s recent announcement), we don’t have all that many nm to go until we hit the limits of what's possible under the laws of physics. When you get too small, you can run into problems at atomic scale.

IBM Fellow and all-things-chip guru Bernie Meyerson explained this clearly and concisely several years ago when he predicted that Intel's single-core 5GHz chip would never see the light of day.

With images from an electron microscope, he showed how extremely small chip pathways can be reduced to the point where they are just a few atoms thick. This sounds fine until you learn that atoms aren't nice, round balls the way they are presented in textbooks.

Lumpy atoms

Atoms can be kind of lumpy. When you have only a few forming a guardrail on your chip electronic roadways, they allow electricity to leak through, which leads to more heat and energy use. Cranking up the GHz in a chip increases the heat generated to the point where it surpasses the ability of the materials to handle it.

This physical limitation on processor frequency led us to the multiple core world we see now. The only way to get more performance out of processors is to use the real estate gained by shrinking on-die components to provide duplicate cores and run parallel workloads on them at reasonable frequencies.

Some options for future chip designs are discussed in the HPCwire story, including HP’s compute-memory hybrid memristors, which could come to market as a flash substitute this year. Joint research by IBM and Samsung into carbon nanotubes is also mentioned. I think we will see a combination of different technologies come into play as we bump up against the shrinking benefits of process shrinking. (Wow, that's going out on a limb, isn't it?)

The real problem is not that we are not getting enough cycles out of processors: it's that the speed at which data moves from memory to processor and back again has not really increased all that much over the past several years. That's the biggest bottleneck we're facing, and faster processors with more cores doesn't really solve it unless the problem set is completely parallel.

What's the solution? I have no idea ... but people who are much better equipped than I are working on it. All I know is that it is going to need a cool name ... maybe something with "turbo" or "fire" in it. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
You think the CLOUD's insecure? It's BETTER than UK.GOV's DATA CENTRES
We don't even know where some of them ARE – Maude
BOFH: WHERE did this 'fax-enabled' printer UPGRADE come from?
Don't worry about that cable, it's part of the config
Want to STUFF Facebook with blatant ADVERTISING? Fine! But you must PAY
Pony up or push off, Zuck tells social marketeers
Oi, Europe! Tell US feds to GTFO of our servers, say Microsoft and pals
By writing a really angry letter about how it's harming our cloud business, ta
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.