& cplSiteName &

Chip Design Fights Smartphone Power Limits

Craig Matsumoto
8/24/2010
50%
50%

Moore's Law turns out to be indirectly limiting the processing power available to smartphones, and a team from the University of California, San Diego, is proposing a new processor design that might get around the problem.

The idea is to turn parts of the chip into specialty processors, wired to perform functions that pop up all the time. The researchers named them conservation cores (c-cores, for short), and one key is that they eat up much less power than a general-purpose microprocessor.

The idea got presented yesterday at HotChips, an annual gathering at Stanford University where engineers meet to discuss the latest design innovations in semiconductors. To the people who work with transistors and interconnects, HotChips is a big deal. It's a venue for proudly announcing major designs, such as the combined processor/graphics chip at the heart of the latest Xbox 360.

Nathan Goulding, who's about to start his fourth year of PhD. studies at UCSD, presented the c-cores idea. The research is being led by assistant professors Michael B. Taylor and Steven Swanson.



Don't expect any commercial chips out of this right away. It's still a research project, although Goulding and his colleagues plan to work on a protoype chip aimed at the Android platform.

The c-core design is a response to the power constraints in handsets. Each chip generation packs more transistors into a small space, and it's gotten to a point where you can't run every part of the chip, because it would overwhelm a smartphone's power budget.

The fraction that's not usable at any given time -- dark silicon, researchers call it -- is growing exponentially as semiconductor manufacturing processes get more advanced.

The answer was to single out the functions that get called repeatedly -- hot code -- and move them to specialty, low-power processors that sit alongside the main microprocessor.

The catch is that the c-cores take up extra chip space. And for some mobile designs, where chips have to be as small as possible, that's been unthinkable -- like saving room on a life raft for your bowling ball collection. Goulding argued that's no longer the case.

"Power is now more expensive than area, so if we can trade area for reduced power, it's a win," Goulding said.

The energy savings come from the c-cores' more economic design. The UCSD team found that c-cores can consume as little as 8 picojoules per instruction, compared with the 91 picojoules that's typical for a MIPS microprocessor.

The c-cores can be reprogrammed, so that as the smartphone or handset receives software upgrades, the types of functions offloaded can be changed accordingly.

For their first real chip, the UCSD team is targeting the Android operating system because it seems particularly well suited to this offload idea; it just happens to have a lot of hot code to play with, in the way it uses libraries and its virtual machine. Goulding's presentation included a grocery list of candidate hot-code functions.

They're calling the chip GreenDroid, and it will consist of 16 blocks. Each are 1 mm2 and contain a MIPS microprocessor and six to 10 Android c-cores. The blocks can talk to each other and can send messages off-chip as well.

The team does have some hardware completed, as they're running Android-based c-cores in a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). They're hoping to eventually produce a GreenDroid ASIC, but Goulding didn't say how long that would take.

The central concept behind c-cores isn't that new. Really, they're offload engines, said Alex Bachmutsky, chief architect at Nokia Networks , in a post-session chat with Light Reading. It's analogous to the specialty cores built for, say, encryption. And the use of specialty hardware on a large scale is being pondered at places like IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), with its Cell architecture.

Still, that doesn't mean UCSD isn't on to something. Bachmutsky gave them credit for some solid work. "For a university, this is very good," he said.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First        ADD A COMMENT
Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:25:44 PM
re: Chip Design Fights Smartphone Power Limits


You can see the whole paper here.  This is actually a paper presented at a different conference in March, but it goes over the same concepts:


http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~ngould...


Maybe another way to put it is that they're hard-wiring Android OS (at least in the case of the specific chip they're working on). Interesting idea.

From The Founder
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Interviews
BT's McRae Sheds Light on 4K Strategy

5|25|17   |   4:45   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's Big Communications Event 2017 in Austin, Texas, BT Group's Chief Network Architect Neil McRae talks about what it took for BT to broadcast live sports in 4K. Catch up with all our BCE coverage at http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
From the Founder
How the NIA Aims to Advance NFV

5|25|17   |   08:07   |   (0) comments


Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
LRTV Custom TV
Better Solutions That Address Growing Scale

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


For Comcast, the X1 rollout and 17-fold increases in broadband speeds in the past 16 years are among factors driving the need for Energy 2020 solutions that reduce cost and consumption, says Mark Hess.
LRTV Custom TV
Ethernity Network Delivers Instant Offloading of Network Functions With All-Programmable Intelligent NIC

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


David Levi, CEO of Ethernity Networks, explains that programmability of the hardware makes the company's All-Programmable Intelligent NIC uniquely beneficial for communications service providers that need advanced data appliances with agile support of virtualization. Utilizing the company's patented network processing technology, Ethernity offers data path ...
LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2017: Vodafone Gets Obsessed With Cloud-Native

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


Vodafone's Matt Beal updates us on Project Ocean and explains why simple virtualization isn't enough of a goal for network transformation. Catch up with other BCE 2017 keynotes and news at http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2017: Intel's Take on Network Transformation

5|24|17   |     |   (0) comments


In this BCE 2017 keynote, Lynn Comp discusses Intel's vision for areas such as analytics, automation and service assurance. For more videos and BCE coverage, see http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
LRTV Documentaries
Order From Chaos: The Steve Saunders BCE Keynote

5|24|17   |   17:27   |   (0) comments


Kicking off BCE 2017, Light Reading founder Steve Saunders lays blame for NFV's slow ramp-up and urges telecom to return to old-fashioned standards building and interoperability testing.
Think of this as the video sequel to the recent columns he's written about NFV and the prospect of a telecom app store. (See

LRTV Documentaries
Service Provider Panel: Partnering in the Digital Era

5|22|17   |     |   (0) comments


Coopetition has always been part of telecom, but the ecosphere now includes data centers, vendors, apps developers, cloud service providers and Internet content providers. This BCE 2017 panel explores the new attitudes among network operators as to the value and variety of ...
LRTV Interviews
Site Demo: AT&T's IoT Flow Platform

5|19|17   |   04:25   |   (0) comments


At AT&T's R&D center in Tel Aviv, Israel, project leader Eyal Segev talks about the operator's Flow platform and how it helps to prototype IoT applications.
LRTV Documentaries
Agent of Change: A Q&A With AT&T's John Donovan

5|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


Carol Wilson talks with the man leading AT&T's transformation efforts about the challenge of change.
LRTV Documentaries
BCE Service Provider Panel: The New Business Realities

5|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


For virtualization to happen, the telecom industry first has to grapple with key functional aspects of SDN and NFV that need to be universal, such as onboarding of virtualized network functions and federation of software-defined networks.
LRTV Interviews
BCE Service Provider Keynote: CenturyLink

5|16|17   |   22:32   |   (0) comments


Aamir Hussain leads the Product Development and Technology organization at CenturyLink, which includes the company's information technology function. He is an experienced senior technology executive with more than 25 years of proven success in the implementation of global technology operations, operationalization of complex technology, infrastructures and business ...
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Cities Clamor for More Clout at FCC
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/23/2017
What's Blocking 4K TV Today
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 5/22/2017
Sonus & Genband Finally Combine to Form $745M Company
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/23/2017
Apple Looking to Cook 5G Test Devices
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/24/2017
Fright Wigs & Cocktails: BCE 2017 in Pics
Mitch Wagner, Editor, Enterprise Cloud, 5/19/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
TEOCO Founder and CEO Atul Jain talks to Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the challenges around cost control and service monetization in the mobile and IoT sectors.
Animals with Phones
What Brogrammers Look Like to the Rest of Us Click Here
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.