Intel’s 22FFL Process Improves Power, Cost, and Analog

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Intel’s 22FFL (FinFET Low-power) is a variant of their existing 22nm process that is aimed at low-cost, extremely low-power, and analog/RF applications. 22FFL relaxes the ground rules to reduce the need for double patterning, thereby cutting costs. At the same time, Intel’s engineers essentially backported the second and third generation FinFETs from the 10nm and 14nm processes to 22FFL, improving performance and power efficiency with superior fin geometry and workfunction metals. Intel also created a large library of digital and analog transistors and passive components.

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Adaptive Clocking in AMD’s Steamroller

My favorite paper from the ISSCC processor session describes an adaptive clocking technique implemented in AMD’s 28nm Steamroller core that compensates for power supply noise. Initial results show a 10-20% decrease in power consumption from reducing the voltage, with no loss in performance. This elegant technique is likely to be adopted across AMD’s entire product line including GPUs, x86 CPUs, ARM-based CPUs, and other critical blocks in highly integrated SoCs.

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AMD’s Jaguar Microarchitecture

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Jaguar is AMD’s first 28nm processor, a compact 3.1mm2 design that targets 2-25W devices. It is a derivative of the earlier 40nm Bobcat, a fully out-of-order two issue design, with significant improvements in instruction set architecture and implementation. Some of the highlights include support for AVX, wider 128-bit datapaths, and a higher performance L2 cache. Jaguar is already shipping in several AMD SoCs targeted at tablets, notebooks, microservers, and desktops. However, it is far more prominent as the CPU powering the Sony Playstation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One.

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Silvermont, Intel’s Low Power Architecture

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Silvermont is Intel’s first CPU core tailored for power efficient applications such as smartphones, tablets, and microservers. The 22nm microarchitecture features updated instruction set extensions, full out-of-order execution with a tightly coupled L2 cache, aggressive power management, and a new high performance SoC fabric. These enhancements deliver tremendous performance and frequency gains over the aging Atom core, putting Intel’s mobile strategy in a more competitive position.

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Microservers must Specialize to Survive

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The server market is at a potential inflection point, with a new breed of ARM-based microserver vendors challenging the status quo, particularly for cloud computing. We survey 20 modern processors to understand the options for alternative architectures. To achieve disruptive performance, microserver vendors must deeply specialize in particular workloads. However, there is a trade-off between differentiation and market breadth. As the handful of microserver startups are culled to 1-2 viable vendors, only the companies which deliver compelling advantages to significant markets will survive.

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Intel’s Near-Threshold Voltage Computing and Applications

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Near-threshold voltage computing extends the voltage scaling associated with Moore’s Law and dramatically improves power and energy efficiency. The technology is superb for throughput, at the cost of latency, and best suited to Intel’s products for HPC and mobile graphics.

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AMD’s Analyst Update

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AMD’s new management took to the stage to highlight a new strategy and share the roadmap for 2012-2013. The executives generally came across well and there are only a few changes from the existing focus, with no major shifts. The updated server roadmap seems challenging, given the competition, but client systems should do decently and expand AMD’s footprint in mobile.

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Medfield, Intel’s x86 Phone Chip

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For 4 years, Intel has struggled to move into the market for mobile devices. Conventional wisdom holds that x86 is too inefficient for smart phones. The recently announced 32nm Medfield proves that x86 is a viable option and that Intel can design smart phone products. We explore the Medfield SoC and analyze the impact on Intel’s mobile strategy.

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AMD’s Mobile Strategy

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With all the recent changes, AMD seems like a ship adrift at sea with no clear strategy or vision. We look at AMD and where they are likely to head in the coming years for tablets and phones and explain why they will stick with x86, rather than embrace ARM as some have suggested.

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ISSCC 2012 Preview

Highlights of the upcoming 2012 ISSCC include the first 22nm disclosures from Intel and several SoC papers from AMD, Cavium Networks and Oracle. Looking out further to the future, the clear focus is power consumption. There are several papers from Intel on low-power logic, one from IBM discussing 3D integration of embedded DRAM and a third from Fujitsu on system level power for the K supercomputer.

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