As of this morning, if you Google "Most transistors on an IC", you get lots of hits with the title "Altera Breaks Semiconductor Industry Record for Most Transistors on an Integrated Circuit," but is this true?
Now, I fully understand the folks at Altera being extremely proud of the fact that their 28-nm Stratix V FPGAs, which taped out around the end of 2010, are incredibly clever devices that contain a mind-boggling number of transistors.
In today’s announcement, they claim to have set an industry milestone in semiconductor technology by delivering “The most transistors ever packed onto an integrated circuit.” They also say that their Stratix V FPGAs are “The semiconductor industry's first devices to feature 3.9 billion transistors.”
As an aside, I wonder who counted all of these. It’s so easy to miss a little one here or there … I don’t know why, but I like exact numbers … this is the sort of thing that will niggle me for ages.
But we digress… once again I can totally understand the folks being excited by devices containing 3.9 billion (give or take) transistors – this truly is an amazing achievement. I just find it difficult to believe that even the most complex FPGA would contain more transistors than a dedicated memory chip.
If Altera had qualified their announcement to say “The most transistors ever packed into a Logic IC” or “The most transistors ever packed into an FPGA” then I would have thought no more about it (OK I would, but that’s just me). But saying “The most transistors ever packed onto an integrated circuit” does seem to be a rather bold claim.
I look forward to hearing from the folks at Altera one way or the other. In the meantime, none of this should detract from what really is the most amazing achievement – the remainder of the official press release is as follows:
"Altera surpassed the known record for transistors when it taped out Stratix V FPGAs at the end of 2010," said Bradley Howe, vice president of IC engineering at Altera. "Maintaining the rapid pace set by Moore's Law has allowed programmable logic to remain at the forefront of driving innovations in semiconductor technology. Achieving milestones like this continue to propel FPGAs to new heights of capacity and performance while delivering significantly higher levels of integration."
Stratix V FPGAs are among the most sophisticated semiconductors shipping in the industry today. They are the only FPGAs to leverage TSMC's 28-nm high-performance (28HP) process for maximum performance and bandwidth. The 28HP process, combined with optimizations made in the FPGA design, enable Altera to dramatically increase the capabilities of its high-end device family. Features such as 28-Gbps transceivers, variable precision DSP blocks and embedded HardCopy blocks enable Stratix V FPGAs to be leveraged in the highest performance, highest-bandwidth applications such as 100G optical transport network (OTN) multiplexing transponders, 100-GbE line cards and advanced military radar applications.
Availability of the Stratix V FPGA
Samples of the first member of Altera's Stratix V FPGA family (Stratix V 5SGXA7) are shipping now. To learn additional information about Stratix V FPGAs, visit: www.altera.com/pr/stratix5.
I was just chatting to one of my friends at Altera who told me: "With regard to our announcement, we are referring specifically to logic devices. This essentially includes processors, ASSPs, ASICs, FPGAs, etc."
Ah Ha! I say ... I love it when I'm right :-)
Toshiba has a Flash chip with 128 GB capacity. It's made by stacking 16 8GB layers inside the chip package. To your point Max, I'm not sure it would be possible to produce an 8GB dice with fewer than 3.9 Giga-transistors.
To one of your other points, it sounds like a pretty significant achievement for an FPGA. Give that an Intel i7 is listed as having about 3/4 of a billion transistors, you should be able to do some pretty incredible things with their FPGA.
The more I say 3.9 billion transistors the more I think what an amazing achievement it it to get a chip like this up and running ... so how many billion transistors do you think we'll be seeing by say 2020?
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for todays commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.