SAN FRANCISCO With exponentially increasing transistor counts required to meet the processing demands of next-generation multimedia and gaming platforms, panelists at this week's Design Automation Conference predicted the rise of new architectural approaches to IC design that go way beyond the scaling approaches that they said only provided a temporary solution.
"Today we're at 302 million transistors... by 2013 we'll be at .25 micron and 5,400 million transistors," said Chris Malachowsky, founder of graphics chip company nVidia Corp. "Where we have to go is frankly scary." Malachowsky was speaking on the panel dealing with design challenges for next-generation multimedia, game and entertainment platforms.
Exacerbating the issue is the move towards a software-enabled user experience. "I predict that functionality will be increasingly delivered by complex and performance-hungry software," said Brendan Traw, chief technology officer of Intel Corp.'s Digital Home group. "There'll be increasing reliance on that software for differentiation."
The higher integration levels, driven by performance and cost requirements means that "performance per watt is the mantra," said Malachowsky. "Voltage scaling [and other techniques] will only solve the problem temporarily," said John Cohn, IBM fellow and its chief scientist for design automation. "Scaling has made us lazy. This could be the start of a renaissance."
That renaissance must happen only in the context of circuit design techniques but must also extend down to the process level, according Joeng-Taek Kong, senior vice president at Samsung. "If you can't reduce leakage then the architectural changes won't matter."
Rich Tobias, chief technology officer at Pixelworks Inc., said that to get to the next level he's constantly looking at revisions to algorithms. "There's no barrier to moving aheadthere's just a lot of hard work ahead of us."
To help with that work, the panelists called for better tools, including virtual platforms, reusable hardware IP and software and parallelizing compilers.
Despite the advances made to date, audience members decried the complexity of the user interfaces to digital devices and the difficulties of getting them to communicate with each other. All the panelists acknowledged the problems. "We need to standardize the interface," said Malachowsky.
Answering the question as to which devicePC, set-top box or gaming platform--would win out as the be the home's central hub, Malachowsky said none of them. "I don't think one replaces the other, but they will get easier to share with," he said. "I think they co-exist."