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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Death Of The Microprocessor & The Ascendant Microsystems

Greg Papadopoulos writes brilliantly on the continued operation of Moore's law and predicts that microsystems replace microprocessors.
He argues that continuing to throw transistors at making single processors run is as ineffective as the energy efficiency of a gigantic SUV. We get very poor computing return for every watt we invest. Outside of portable applications, this extreme energy wasting has really only become a concern when the industry realized that it was getting very difficult to remove the waste heat - to cool the engine, as it were. More engineers are needed to create the design, more engineers to test that the design is correct, and whole new layers of managers to try to coordinate the resulting hundreds and hundreds of folks on the project. Bugs increase, schedules are missed, and innovation actually decreases. The result: microprocessors are dead
. Just as the '80's discrete processors were killed by microprocessors, today's discrete systems - motherboards full of supporting chip sets and PCI slots with sockets for microprocessors - will be killed by microsystems: the just-starting revolution of server-on-a-chip. Almost the entire server (sans DRAM) is reduced to a single chip (or a small number of co-designed ones, just as the first micros often had an outboard MMU and/or FPU). These microsystems directly connect to DRAM and to very high speed serialized I/O that are converted to either packet or coherent-memory style network connections.
Inside the microsystem, you'll find a full SMP : multiple processor cores, crossbar switches, multi-level caches, DRAM and I/O controllers. Moore's Law is VERY much alive. we are now dying to get to 65nm (Niagara is 90nm) so we can get even more transistors on a chip in order to integrate more and bigger systems. Just as the microprocessor, harvested the pipeline inventions of 60's and 70's, microsystems are going to integrate the system innovations of the 80's and 90's.By 2010 microprocessors will seem like really old ideas. Motherboards will end up in museum collections. And the whole ecology that we have around so-called industry standard systems will collapse as it becomes increasingly obvious that the only place that computer design actually happens is by those who are designing chips. Everything downstream is just sheet metal. The apparent diversity of computer manufactures is a shattered illusion. In 2010, if you can't craft silicon, you can't add value to computer systems. You'd be about as innovative as a company in the 90's who couldn't design a printed circuit board

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