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The Really Good Times are Over

We really do not realize how good we had it.  Sure, we could apply that to budget surpluses and the time before the rise of global terrorism, but in this case I am talking about the predictable advancement of graphics due to both design expertise and improvements in process technology.  Moore’s law has been exceptionally kind to graphics.  We can look back and when we plot the course of these graphics companies, they have actually outstripped Moore in terms of transistor density from generation to generation.  Most of this is due to better tools and the expertise gained in what is still a fairly new endeavor as compared to CPUs (the first true 3D accelerators were released in the 1993/94 timeframe).

The complexity of a modern 3D chip is truly mind-boggling.  To get a good idea of where we came from, we must look back at the first generations of products that we could actually purchase.  The original 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics was comprised of a raster chip and a texture chip, each contained approximately 1 million transistors (give or take) and were made on a then available .5 micron process (we shall call it 500 nm from here on out to give a sense of perspective with modern process technology).  The chips were clocked between 47 and 50 MHz (though often could be clocked up to 57 MHz by going into the init file and putting in “SET SST_GRXCLK=57”… btw, SST stood for Sellers/Smith/Tarolli, the founders of 3Dfx).  This revolutionary graphics card at the time could push out 47 to 50 megapixels and had 4 MB of VRAM and was released in the beginning of 1996.

righteous3d_01.JPG

My first 3D graphics card was the Orchid Righteous 3D.  Voodoo Graphics was really the first successful consumer 3D graphics card.  Yes, there were others before it, but Voodoo Graphics had the largest impact of them all.

In 1998 3Dfx released the Voodoo 2, and it was a significant jump in complexity from the original.  These chips were fabricated on a 350 nm process.  There were three chips to each card, one of which was the raster chip and the other two were texture chips.  At the top end of the product stack was the 12 MB cards.  The raster chip had 4 MB of VRAM available to it while each texture chip had 4 MB of VRAM for texture storage.  Not only did this product double performance from the Voodoo Graphics, it was able to run in single card configurations at 800x600 (as compared to the max 640x480 of the Voodoo Graphics).  This is the same time as when NVIDIA started to become a very aggressive competitor with the Riva TnT and ATI was about to ship the Rage 128.

Read the entire editorial here!

The Atom ain't dead yet! New ultra low power Avoton chips for servers

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2012 - 07:48 PM |
Tagged: 32nm, 22nm, tri-gate, Intel, atom, Avoton

Intel's Atom S1200 line of chips are obviously designed to compete with ARM's upcoming 64bit chips in the server room.  The family of processors will all be under 10W TDP, with the top chip, the Atom S1260, which is a dual core 2GHz part that produces 8.5W.  The three chips they have released are on the older 32nm process but according to EETimes you can expect new models using the 22nm tri-gate processors in the near future.  From what The Register could find out Intel has not yet ruled out LGA models as well as the embedded chips you will be seeing first.  They did pin down some more stats, with the new Atoms supporting DDR3 1333MHz and support  eight lanes of PCI Express 2.0, what they will not be able to support on chip is network connectivity, these chips will still be at least partially dependent on other chips for some of their features so they are not truly an SoC, yet.

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"CHIPMAKER Intel has released its Atom S1200 series aimed at low power single socket servers.

Intel's race to meet ARM in the low power server market has seen the firm push its Atom branded chips into sub-10W territory while supporting 64-bit memory addressing and ECC memory. Now the firm has released three dual-core chips that make up its Atom S1200 series, all sporting sub-10W TDP."

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Source: The Register

So much for Intel's Tri-gate

Subject: General Tech | March 16, 2012 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: tri-gate, FinFET, silicon nanowires

We've just met Intel's Tri-Gate transistor technology, which offers significant improvements in power efficiency as well as reducing waste hear but researchers have already moved onto the next new technology.  Referred to as silicon nanowire transistors in this story at The Register, the next generation of transistor may have no gates whatsoever, or be made entirely of gates, depending on how you look at it.  The wire will be wrapped in a silicon oxide, high-K metal gate making the transistor cylindrical and not limited in the number of gates possible in the same way that planar or 3D transistors are.  The development of this technology is in its infancy but could well help us see chips go below 5nm as it matures.

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"The next step in transistor architecture will likely be silicon nanowires – extremely thin silicon wires that will form the transistor's chanel, surrounded on all sides by a wrap-around silicon oxide, high-K metal gate.

"It's the ultimate fully-depleted device," the director of IBM's Semiconductor Research & Development Center, Gary Patton, said during his keynote address at Wednesday's Common Platform Technology Forum 2012 in Santa Clara, California. "You don't have a gate on just two sides, or three sides – it's fully encapsulating the silicon nanowire device."

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Source: The Register

Intel won't be the only one with 3D transistors for long

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2011 - 12:24 PM |
Tagged: fujitsu, suvolta, Intel, transistor, tri-gate, ddc, deeply depleted channel

Fujitsu and SuVolta, a designer of custom CMOS chips, have announced the fruits of a recent joint project aimed at developing a 3-dimensional transistor to match Intel's FinFET.  As we have seen with Ivy Bridge, this advancement in transistor technology significantly reduces the power needs of a chip which utilizes them.  The current prototypes utilize a 65nm process but the companies claim it will easily scale to 32nm.  SemiAccurate also reports that the Deeply Depleted Channel shows an advantage over Intel's Tri-gate transistor design  as DDC is capable of handling variable threshold voltages; Intel's requires that all threshold voltages match.  It will be a while before we see these implemented at Fabs but it is nice to see competition in the next generation of transistor technology.

SA_SuVolta-transistor.jpg

"During the IEDM conference in Los Altos earlier today Fujitsu presented a paper jointly authored by SuVolta. The paper describes how a newly developed transistor with a deeply depleted channel can achieve the same power savings as those announced by Intel that has launched a FinFET-transistor, which the company calls a 3D transistor."

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Source: SemiAccurate

Ivy Bridge should be here by the spring

Subject: Processors | December 5, 2011 - 01:48 PM |
Tagged: Ivy Bridge, Intel, i3-3200, i7-3700, i5-3500, i5-3400, 22nm, tri-gate

Good news for those of you who have been waiting to upgrade in the hopes that Ivy Bridge will be arriving on time.  It seems your patience has paid off but you will have to wait a while longer before you can get your hands on Intel's next tick.  You can look forward to more PCIe 3.0 lanes, just like those who've jumped onto the new Sandy Bridge E chips and a bump on the GPU portion of the chip.  X-bit Labs doesn't have any pricing for the new chips, but they do list all of the models you will be able to buy.  One thing you should note are the impressive TDPs, they may not count as low power CPUs but they're certainly lower than other Intel and AMD chips currently on the market.

intel_ivy_bridge_roadmap.jpg

"Intel Corp. has notified its partners about its decision to introduce of its next-generation code-named Ivy Bridge processors in the second quarter of 2012. Previously the company planned to release the Core i 3000-series central processing units (CPUs) for desktops in March - April timeframe, which left a possibility to unveil the chips in the first quarter."

intel_ivy_bridge_specifications.png

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Source: X-Bit Labs

Take a trip on the Ivy Bridge

Subject: Processors | September 22, 2011 - 02:35 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Ivy Bridge, tick, 22nm, tri-gate

Over at AnandTech you can read about the first processor to be designed using Intel's new Tri-Gate transistors, Ivy Bridge.  As well this new take on Sandy Bridge will natively support USB 3.0 thanks to the improved Z77, Z75 and H77 chipsets.  There will also be Q77, Q75 and B75 to make sure you get a more alphabet soup to deal with.  The new GPU inside is something Intel is rather proud of, a claimed 33% improvement is impressive and signals that Intel really is taking the iGPU portion of their chips seriously.  That focus is confirmed if you read through the minimal improvements to the CPU side, not a bad thing at all, simply confirmation that Intel is concerned more with power efficiency and graphics performance instead of just pumping up the megahertz.

ivbgpu.jpg

"Five years ago Intel announced its ambitious tick-tock release cadence. We were doubtful that Intel could pull off such an aggressive schedule but with the exception of missing a few months here or there tick-tock has been a success. On years marked by a tick Intel introduces a new manufacturing process, while tock years keep manufacturing process the same and introduce a new microprocessor architecture. To date we've had three tocks (Conroe, Nehalem, Sandy Bridge) and two ticks (Penryn, Westmere). Sampling by the end of this year and shipping in the first half of next year will be Intel's third tick: Ivy Bridge."

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Source: AnandTech

IDF 2011: Intel Haswell Architecture Offers 20x Lower Standby Power

Subject: General Tech, Processors | September 13, 2011 - 01:05 PM |
Tagged: tri-gate, sandy bridge, Ivy Bridge, idf 2011, idf, haswell

The first keynote of the Intel Developer Forum is complete and it started with Paul Otellini discussing the high level direction for Intel in the future.  One of the more interesting points made was not about Ivy Bridge, which we will all see very soon, but about Haswell, Intel's next microarchitecture meant to replace the Sandy Bridge designs sometime in late 2012 or early 2013.  Expected to focus on having 8 processing cores, much improved graphics and the new AVX2 extenstion set, Haswell will also be built on the 3D tri-gate transistors announced over the summer.

Otellini describes Haswell's performance in two important metrics.  First, it will use 30% less power than Sandy Bridge at the same performance levels.  This is a significant step and could be the result of higher IPC as well as better efficiency thanks to the 22nm process technology.  

keynote05.jpg

Where Haswell really excels is apparently in the standby metric: as a platform it could use as much as 20x less power than current hardware.  Obviously Intel's engineers have put a focus on power consumption more than performance and the results are beginning to show.  The goals are simple but seemingly impossible to realize: REAL all-day power and more than 10 days of stand by time.

Source: PCPer

Intel steps out of line to show off 3D transistors

Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2011 - 11:40 AM |
Tagged: Intel, transistor, tri-gate, Ivy Bridge

Back in May Intel released an interesting video showing off Tri-Gate technology, which brings a third dimension to transistors.  That will allow transitions to happen with much less voltage, reducing power requirements and heat generation and allowing for increases in transistor density.  Ivy Bridge was suggested as the likely suspect for Intel to first utilize Tri-Gates and over at SemiAccurate you can see the proof as well as the process.  Intel is claiming a 37% performance increase at low voltages or about half the power usage if you keep the same performance.  Read on to see the difference between FINFets that will be in the competitions chips and the Intel-only three dimensional transistors.

Planar_vs_Tri-Gate.jpg

"Intel is set to become the first company to mass produce non-planar transistors with their upcoming 22nm process. Others are talking about FD-SOI, FINFets, and several related structures, but only Intel is set to produce anything in the near future.

There has been a lot of talk about what Intel is doing, and a lot of incomplete or incorrect information put forward from many different sources. What Intel is making is called Tri-Gate transistors, something that is a radical departure from planar ’2D’ transistors, and distinct from FINFets in a very important way."

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Source: SemiAccurate