Processors are rapidly advancing the state of the art in the commercial world, and the mil/aero community is anxious to reap the benefits of the technology. Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors placed on an integrated circuit will double every two years, has taken on a slightly different look and feel as we are reach the physical limits of transistor density in a single core. We are now turning our attentions to and taking into account core density. We have gone from single to dual- and quad-core processors, and now even a hexa (six)-core processor is available with the launch of Intel’s new 32nm Westmere product family.
Industry R&D group Tera-Scale Computing, makers of the Teraflops Research Chip 80-core test processor, predict that processors like its 80-core test chip will be available in five years. The first multicore processors were announced only five years ago in 2005, and with the recent release of the Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors, quad-core is now considered mainstream.
Is there an end in sight? Some experts believe so. Transistors are likely to run up against a slight physical challenge: They will be the size of an atom. Even Gordon E. Moore himself (co-founder of Intel and creator of Moore’s Law) said in 2005, “In terms of size (of transistors) you can see that we’re approaching the size of atoms, which is a fundamental barrier, but it’ll be two or three generations before we get that far—but that’s as far out as we’ve ever been able to see. We have another 10 to 20 years before we reach a fundamental limit. By then, they’ll be able to make bigger chips and have transistor budgets in the billions.”
Not only is the number of cores being multiplied, so is the number of materials upon which processors can be built. Say “goodbye” to plain old silicon! Materials research is yielding substances that support much higher speeds than the traditional silicon wafers. Research by IBM and Georgia Tech has shown that a silicon/germanium, supercooled transistor could run at 500GHz and beyond, as it was cooled further to 4.5 K (-451 F/-268.65 C for those of us without our handy Kelvin to Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion formulas). In simulation, it was shown to be possible to run at 1 terahertz (THz) Can you imagine a 1THz processor sitting at your feet? Sends chills down this geek’s back!
Multicore is just the beginning and, with modern EDA solutions, we engineers have at our fingertips the tools to dream up and develop cutting-edge computing products–and, perhaps, change the world one core at a time.