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EETE NOV 2014

Startup creates virtual cores By Rick Merritt Two former Intel engineers who faced the power wall that ended frequency scaling are describing their startup’s technology that hopes to surmount it. Soft Machines aims to bring a new level of parallelism to single-threaded software that could enable performance gains for any processor. The startup has attracted $125 million in financing since it was formed in 2008, making it one of the few well-funded processor startups these days -- and certainly not the fastest to get to market. It hopes to close soon a “huge” round of investment that will take it through the next three years when it aims to help its first customers bring working chips to market. The company is showing a working prototype of a 32-bit processor that uses its microarchitecture and software to provide about twice the performance of 32-bit ARM and x86 chips. It delivers about 40% more than Intel’s current 64-bit Haswell processor, the startup claims. Overall, the company claims its approach can deliver the same performance at a third or a quarter of the power of conventional processors or 1.7x to 2.2x the performance at the same power level. It claims the approach can be used on applications ranging from embedded devices to datacenter servers. Soft Machines is working on a handful of implementations for different markets of its so-called Virtual Instruction Set Computing (VISC) technology. It aims to forge deals with customers next year to license the technology and co-develop processors using it. Chief executive Mahesh Lingareddy and CTO Mohammad Abdallah designed processors together at Intel for eight years ending in 2006. Their experiences led them to form Soft Machines, which got angel funding from, among others, two of their former bosses at Intel, Richard Wirt and Albert Yu. “We saw first-hand the power wall, working on a 6 GHz design in early 2000 that aimed to evolve to 10 GHz in 2010 -- the rest was history,” says Lingareddy. “As the industry moved to multicore, we realized there would not be the same power-per-watt scaling because of programming challenges and other issues.” Soft Machines claims its approach can split a single-threaded application into separate tasks that run across a pipeline of virtual threads over one or more virtual cores. The virtual cores can be mapped to resources on one or more physical cores. The approach is more fine-grained than today’s multi-threading technologies, says Abdallah. It’s also more efficient than virtual machines because it is based in hardware rather than high-level software constructs. There is some latency and overhead in the approach, but the net returns in simplifying the complexity of an out-of-order pipeline make it worthwhile, he claims. The startup backers include AMD, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung, as well as national investment groups in the Middle East and Russia. Consortium focuses on future of digital power solutions By Paul Buckley Thre leading international power supply manufacturers are forming a new power industry consortium to be called the Architects of Modern Power (AMP) which is aiming to create the most technically advanced, end-to-end distributed power solutions. AMP’s founding members are US-based CUI, Swedishbased Ericsson Power Modules and Japan-based Murata, all global manufacturers developing advanced power conversion technology for distributed power architectures with the objective of creating a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and support. The advent of digital control in DC-DC converters and point-of-load regulators, driven initially by telecom and datacom companies experiencing a staggering rise in IP traffic and now proliferating into other industries, has made multi-sourcing of leading-edge power conversion products more difficult for customers. A level of software compatibility will be required in order to achieve a true multi-source solution, including compatibility of PMBus commands, proprietary controller commands, and configuration files. The AMP Group was formed to address this challenge. The AMP Group is looking to extend its influence well beyond simply defining mechanical dimensions and product footprints for intelligent DC-DC power modules and AC-DC power supplies. The consortium’s long-term strategic alliance is to foster close collaboration between members to develop shared technology roadmaps. The participating companies will establish common mechanical and electrical specifications for their products, standardization of monitoring, control and communications functions, and create common configuration files for plug-and-play interoperability between products from each firm. The consortium’s aim is to develop a multi-sourced, high efficiency power ecosystem with supply chain reliability through continuity of production. Explaining the background behind the consortium’s creation Mark Adams, CUI Inc’s Senior Vice President said: “We are really formalising a relationship that CUI, Ericsson Power Modules and Murata Power Solutions have all had for several years now. “When you look historically at standards groups and digital power they have traditionally been focused on simply mechanical standards. They haven’t focused on anything else but we believe AMP will have to because we are not focusing simply on an analog power supply but rather a digital power supply which means you have other considerations to take into account. We will be footprint compatible but we will also be feature compatible and that is critical because as you consider digital intelligence and digital control there are a lot of features that can be incorporated into these modules.” 22 Electronic Engineering Times Europe November 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE NOV 2014
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