Processor Innovations: ARM, IBM, AMD

The chip manufacturers have had a busy 2010 so far and the innovations coming from ARM, IBM, AMD and Intel continue to highlight new capabilities. Here's a closer look at their latest announcements.

The chip manufacturers have had a busy 2010 so far and the innovations coming from ARM, IBM, AMD and Intel continue to highlight new capabilities.

ARM announcements
ARM announced its newest optimization package for the ARM Cortex-A9 processor, targeting Samsung 32nm LP High-K Metal Gate (HKMG) process technology.  The Processor Optimization Pack enhances System-on-Chip (SoC) designs, enables operation over 1 GHz, and is available for immediate licensing from ARM.  “ARM has pushed the envelope to deliver a unique enhanced physical IP product that highlights the compelling advantages of Samsung 32nm HKMG technology,” says John Heinlein, vice president of marketing, ARM Physical IP Division. “Through this package, which features ARM Artisan physical IP to accelerate critical paths in the design, we are delivering a platform that enables the most advanced mobile chips in the industry”  ARM presented "Proven Methodologies for Cortex-A9 Implementation" at the ARM 2010 Technology Conference Tuesday in Santa Clara.

On Wednesday ARM announced the ARM Mali-T604 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which will deliver up to 5 times the performance improvement over current Mali graphics processors. The fourth generation MALI GPU is designed for general purpose computing and extends API support for Chronos OpenCL and Microsoft DirectX. The Mali-T604 adds techniques to reduce memory bandwidth consumption by up to 30%, substantially improving system level energy-efficiency.

“Visual computing is driving the next generation of consumer electronics, as consumers and developers demand the highest levels of graphics performance”, said Lance Howarth, EVP and general manager, Media Processing Division, ARM. “The tri-pipe architecture in the Mali-T604 provides both market leading compute functionality and high-performance graphics without compromise, enabling unequalled user experiences in energy-efficient consumer electronic devices.”

Also announced Wednesday at the ARM Technology Conference was the CoreLink 400 series of AMBA 4 protocol-compliant system IP, enabling designers to realize the full potential of the latest high-performance CPU and GPU technology. "We realize that building complex, many-core multimedia-rich compute sub-systems with the associated low latency, non-blocking memory sub-systems is challenging.” said Michael Dimelow, Marketing Director, processor Division, ARM. “The software community wants certainty when designing for these complex SoC designs. The good news is that the new CoreLink 400 series products provide hardware assistance in just the right places to really improve consistency and portability.” The CoreLink 400 complements Mali-T604 and Cortex-A15 processors by enabling efficient sharing of the A15 cache data with the T604 GPU, thus maximizing overall throughput in a compute sub-system.  The ARM CoreLink 400 series products are available for licensing today.

Cambridge-based ARM Holdings stock has more than doubled in the past year.

New IBM Chip Technology
IBM announced a new chip-making technology that can be used to create advanced semiconductors that can keep pace with the exploding number of internet-connected devices and the tidal wave of data they are generating. A unique IBM technology in the new Cu-32 Custom Logic dramatically increases the memory capacity and processing speeds of chips used in fiber-optic and wireless network, and in such gear as routers and switches.  An example of this Cu-32 enabled technology IBM gives is that a consumer downloading a feature-length film on a smart phone can do so in less than ten seconds; or a HD version in under a minute.

"By any measure – from the growing number of mobile users to the explosion we're seeing in data - network traffic will grow at a pace we haven't seen before," said Mark Ireland, VP, Semiconductor Products, IBM. "Cu-32, our most advanced Custom Logic offering, with the industry's best eDRAM and high speed serial links will provide our infrastructure partners the lead they need to create next-generation networks."

The Cu-32 will be first to offer IBM's High Speed Serial cores in 32nm SOI (Silicon-on-Insulator) technology. This enables a 15G backplane, 15G chip-to-chip core, 28G backplane, 6G standards core and a PCI-Express Gen3  core. IBM's high-k metal gate (HKMG) SOI technology can provide up to 25% chip performance improvement, up to 30% improved energy efficiency with up to twice the density compared to 45 nm SOI technology, allowing chips built with the Cu-32 process to address an ever wider range of devices and applications.

AMD Vision
At the annual Financial Analyst Day AMD executives detailed how their Fusion Accelerated Processing Units (APU's) are favorably positioned to address demanding PC workloads in sleek form factors with long battery life.

"AMD Fusion products represent the biggest advancement in processor technology since the industry's switch to multi-core designs," observed Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at Insight 64. "AMD Fusion enables a quantum increase in the performance of entry-level and mainstream processors, and helps software developers enrich their offerings in ways that would previously have been hard to imagine. These enhanced applications, in turn, will give the PC industry tools to tap into new opportunities that only the latest GPU technology can provide."

AMD highlighted future chip roadmaps and notes that by the end of 2012 every new server CPU they bring to market will be based on their 'Bulldozer' architecture.

Tom's Hardware has a nice review of the details from the Analyst Day and compares CPU and GPU market shares.

SGI also announced AMD support for its Altix ICE 8400  high performance computing blade platform. With AMD Opteron 6100 series processor support, the Altix ICE 8400 is now capable of delivering up to 1,536 processor cores in a single rack, and can seamlessly scale from 32 to 65,536 compute nodes. Additionally, the Altix ICE 8400 now provides up to 14.13 teraflops of compute capability and up to 8.192 terabytes of memory per rack.

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