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 EDACafe Editorial

Archive for October, 2019

Li-Ion Nobel Prize; low power MCU; European foundry events; shifting FuSa to the left; MPU and AI chip markets

Friday, October 18th, 2019

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the three scientists who – with distinct contributions over several years – developed lithium-ion batteries: John B. Goodenough (The University of Texas at Austin, USA), M. Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA), and Akira Yoshino (Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan). The official press release from The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences briefly summarizes the history of lithium-ion batteries development, a key achievement fueling today’s fastest-growing electronics applications such as smartphones, electric vehicles and IoT.

A 6.88 µW/MHz MCU

But even with Li-Ion batteries, power consumption is still a sensitive issue for IoT devices, and the race to reduce processors’ power needs continues. The latest announcement is this area comes from German IP provider Racyics, that has developed a 100MHz Arm Cortex-M4F microcontroller test chip with 84kB of SRAM, which demonstrated an efficiency of 6.88 µW/MHz. The test chip is built with GlobalFoundries’ 22FDX process platform, that enabled high efficiency thanks to its adaptive body bias (ABB) tunability. With this feature, transistor threshold voltage can be tuned to match the required combination of energy efficiency, performance, area, and reliability. Racyics’ design IP enables the creation of circuits with operation ​down to 0.4V by holistically considering process, supply voltage and temperature inputs.

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Xilinx Vitis; the 1 GHz Arm-based MCU; the AV Computing Consortium; and more weekly news

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Some of the most significant news this week came from two recent company events: the Xilinx Developer Forum Americas (San Jose, CA, October 1-2) and the Arm TechCon (San Jose, CA, October 8 to 10). In different ways, news from both events testify the industry’s effort to cope with new computing loads by boosting hardware flexibility and hardware/software co-design. Other industry news this week include advancements in 3D memory packaging and some acquisition announcements.

Configuring hardware platforms without hardware expertise

Xilinx has unveiled Vitis, a unified software platform that enables the development of embedded software and accelerated applications on heterogeneous Xilinx platforms – including FPGAs, SoCs and Versal ACAPs (Adaptive Compute Acceleration Platforms). Vitis allows all developers – including software engineers and AI scientists – to co-develop and optimize hardware and software, using the tools and frameworks they already know and understand, without the need for hardware expertise. With Vitis, they can leverage integration with high-level frameworks, develop in C, C++, or Python using accelerated libraries, or use RTL-based accelerators and low-level runtime APIs for more fine-grained control over implementation.

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Google’s quantum computer; Alibaba’s AI chip; Huawei-Arm cooperation; and more industry news

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The 5-nanometer process node is getting closer to volume production, with TSMC providing certifications for its N5 process to major EDA and IP vendors – such as Ansys, Cadence, Mentor, Synopsys and Moortec. In the meantime, there is no shortage of news from all fronts, ranging from futuristic computers to transformer’s coils.

Google’s paper on quantum computing

As widely reported by many media outlets, Financial Times’ journalists have managed to read a paper – briefly posted on a Nasa website and then removed – where Google’s researchers claim that their quantum computer was able to perform a calculation in approximately three minutes that would take today’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. According to the Financial Times, the paper hailed this achievement as “an experimental realization of quantum supremacy on a computational task” and “the advent of a much-anticipated computing paradigm.” Due to the removal of the paper, and the lack of comments from Google, the mystery continues.

Alibaba’s AI chip speeds up e-commerce

It was not if, but when: Alibaba, too, has announced its own AI inference chip. Named Hanguang 800, it reaches a peak performance of 78,563 IPS, with an efficiency of 500 IPS/W in the Resnet-50 inference test. It is currently used internally by Alibaba, for tasks such as product search and automatic translation on e-commerce sites, personalized recommendations, advertising, and intelligent customer services. Thanks to this chip, for example, Alibaba has been able to cut the time required for categorizing one billion products from one hour to five minutes. The AI chip was developed by Alibaba’s research unit, T-Head – whose Chinese name is Pintouge. Earlier this year, T-Head debuted XuanTie 910, a RISC-V-based IoT processor.

Alibaba’s Jeff Zhang unveils the AI chip. Image credit: Alibaba

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