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  • Eliminating the Chasm of Computing

    The world has come through a long way from the 1st UNIVAC computer in 1952, IBM mainframes and minicomputers in secured computer rooms to laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and so on in our hands. Imagine the compute power of a minicomputer then and the compute power of your smartphone or tablet today. And do you know the cost of initial DEC 12-bit PDP-8 in 1964? It was USD 16000+. There were only a few computer companies and computers were accessible to a few lucky ones. I started my tour to a computer lab with mainframe and IBM desktops in 1980s. I had to book my slot for computer time of a few hours which was generally available during the evening or night.

    The basic principle of computing with a CPU, memory, and I/O interface still prevails. What has changed is the efficiency of processing, power, interaction, mobility, and so on for all of these components along with a large number of other integrated components on what we call an SoC. In the realm of this enormous change, which is not yet complete, many companies had to cross their own chasms but who were the heroes to unleash that change and what’s being done to eliminate the chasm of the computing itself?

    Article: ST using Cadence IC Tools with Module Generators at DAC-apollo_gc-jpg

    Compare an Apollo Guidance Computer of 1960s with today’s Cypress SoC with ARM Cortex-M0 core. Today’s SoC is millions of times lesser in weight, size, and power consumption. However we are still very far from the ultimate. So far only a substantial portion of things have evolved, connection between all the things is yet to take place, what we call IoT or IoE. It’s a natural progression as internet came after computers. But what does that mean? That means computers everywhere. Along with the evolution of IoT, we have to also fix many things to process and manage that explosion of data. Companies are struggling to manage the expenses they incur in maintaining their data centers and power bills. Lot of power is still being wasted due to poor management of public amenities across the world.

    Coming back to what has made such transformation possible and what more is going on to accomplish the ultimate. It’s the power of collaboration between companies, each company diligently leading its own space. The transformation has taken place from a few computer companies to a large ecosystem of a number of IP companies, fabless design companies, IDMs, and pure-play foundries. While foundries have excelled in bringing the process technologies to a few nm scales, there has been tremendous progress in the semiconductor design industry with a large number of IP providers and SoC companies. ARM is one of the earliest initiators of the IP-based business model for the chip and SoC design. It’s in their philosophy not to manufacture chips but enable chip manufacturers and fabless designers to design best optimized chips by providing them with ARM’s most efficient processor cores and other building blocks in terms of power, performance, density, cost, interaction, and so on. Today, ARM IP (CPU, GPU, multimedia, interconnect, software etc.) goes inside most of the consumer and other electronic products; more than 60 billion chips have ARM IP inside them. Under different licensing schemes, ARM’s products have long lifecycles ranging into 20+ years, i.e. about ARM’s own life which came into existence in Nov 1990. They would be soon celebrating their Silver jubilee!

    Now in the realm of IoT what’s required to proliferate computing everywhere, cementing the chasms between Endpoints, Hub and Cloud? It requires mobile devices with many sensors integrated together into the system with intelligent software, data security, integrated RF, very high energy efficiency, light weight and size, and cost brought down to a couple of cents.

    Article: ST using Cadence IC Tools with Module Generators at DAC-arm_cordio-jpg

    ARM® Cordio Radio Core IP provides on-chip radio connectivity to Endpoint devices that can operate at 1 V or lower, consuming ultra-low power that can enhance battery life by a number of years.

    What more is required? We require new class of memory with high endurance, low cost, and high performance with low latency. Samsung, SK hynix, Micron and others are coming up with new types of memory such as STT-RAM, Phase-change RAM, ReRAM, and so on. A seamless integration of various components, on a single chip as much as possible and then in a single package including flash, MEMS, and other discrete components is required.

    What about the cloud? This needs new architecture too; a distributed and intelligent architecture which moves data to where it is consumed, thus eliminating a lot of overhead. Also the data center servers need high performance for accelerated storage and energy efficiency to save power. Although Intel is the undisputed leader in processors for data center servers, new breed of server processors with ARM processor core inside are on the horizon. cavium ThunderXTM uses 64bit ARMv8 architecture for workload optimized cloud processing. Also AppliedMicro leads in ARM server CPU market, and most recently Qualcomm has prototyped an ARM server CPU that is supposed to be very power efficient, high performance and cost efficient.

    There is no slowdown in evolution of newer technologies, architectures, methodologies, software and so on. There is an interesting presentation given by Simon Segars, CEO of ARM Holdings as part of the “View from the Top” lecture series at Berkeley Engineering. This is freely available on Youtube HERE.
    Article: ST using Cadence IC Tools with Module Generators at DAC-simon4-jpg
    Simon provided an in-depth view about the technological progress and what ARM is doing to unleash newer opportunities, newer markets. Today, the ARM connected community has 1000+ partners which put the company in the middle of intense collaboration with design companies, foundries, EDA tool providers, IP providers, and other service providers.

    Accessibility to technology has become cheap; development boards with ARM processors can be obtained for a few tens of dollars and those can work with Linux, Android, or Windows. The momentum in IoT has pushed several open platforms for development and innovation of IoT. ARM® mbed is the IoT platform promoted by ARM. Also, there are other IoT platforms promoted by Intel, Samsung, Google, and others. Raspberry Pi is being used by school students in space projects promoted by UK Space Agency.

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