Power budget will dominate
LONDON Processors for mobile clients are going to have to take on many of the functions associated with networking infrastructure, according to Mike Muller, chief technology officer of ARM. This will be part of an explosion of processing requirements for wirelessly-connected devices that will require multiple application-specific processors to keep power consumption down, he added.
Muller was speaking as part of a panel discussion organized by Cambridge Wireless Ltd. (Cambridge, England) on semiconductor opportunities in connectivity. Cambridge Wireless is a company that supports the wireless community around Cambridge.
Muller used his Apple iPad to launch his Powerpoint presentation as he was trying to go a whole day without using an Intel processor. He first laid out a generalized roadmap down to the 11-nm semiconductor manufacturing node.
In comparison to 45-nm silicon, users will get 16 times as many transistors and 2.4 times the clock frequency performance, he said. But because voltage scaling has more or less ended for now and power budgets set a limit, designers may only be able to exploit 10 percent of the 11-nm chip's transistors at any one time, Muller said.
Muller qualified this by paraphrasing the Queen of Hearts in Alice's adventures in Wonderland, saying that just getting to 11-nm would still require the semiconductor processing industry to solve "three impossible things before breakfast." Nonetheless he expressed confidence that they would do so.
"Power budget is going to be your major problem. There has to be innovation at the silicon level and in the system architecture," he said. "There is an opportunity for startups to allow use of transistors in an intelligent way." Muller said it would be possible to simply add embedded memory to what we have now but that he regarded that as "a cheat" that does not fully exploit the technology.
Fundamentally that would mean adding application-specific processors as a continuation of the trend already discernible in the current system-chips, he asserted.