Posted by Mike Thompson on March 9, 2011
On May 7, 1997 Intel introduced the Pentium II at 233MHz. That was the state of the art for microprocessors and computers just 13 years ago. Today if I gave you a computer with a Pentium II you wouldn’t be able to use it. It is not capable of running a modern operating system. Microprocessors and software has been transformed over the past 13 years. The processors that are embedded in our electronic gadget have been transformed as well. For example, a microprocessor (ARC 601) that we released for deeply embedded applications just over a year ago, runs at 532MHz in 65G process and occupies less than four hundreds of a square millimeter (0.039mm2). This ultra-compact processor in many ways has more performance than the Pentium II had but it can fit 2 ½ times in the dot at the end of a sentence in a 12 point font.
That level of performance density is enabling products like tablet PCs, smart phones, and many of the products that we use every day and take for granted. And, the pace of innovation continues and not just in the processors but also in software. It is said that software programs expand to fill the memory space available to hold them, and memory densities are increasing as fast as processor performance densities. With the increasing availability of memory it is not surprising that we are seeing innovation like the Android OS going on in the software realm. By separating the underlying processor hardware from the application software that runs on it Android is enabling application developers to innovate at a faster rate, while enabling their applications to run on a broader range of platforms. This in turn is leading to new capabilities and innovation in the electronic products that we use every day.
Can you imagine what our world will look like 13 years from now! In 2024 will your laptop shrink into your mobile phone? Will the holodeck from Star Trek science fiction be a reality? Will cars drive themselves? We don’t know, but we will explore in this blog what is happening in the realm of processors, software and tools that is taking us there. It is truly an exciting time to be alive.
At the age of 10 Mike begged his father to get him a computer. Never mind that at the time computers were the size of a large office and cost millions of dollars. Yes, Mike is no spring chicken and he didn’t get the computer, although his father did give him an abacus telling him that it would enable him to use the computer that he already had between his ears, which was not appreciated. Whether it was due to the trauma that resulted from using an abacus or just Mike’s love of anything electronic he has spent the last 30 years or so designing, building, and programming computers, microprocessors, and microcontrollers and developing applications that run on them. And his fascination continues with the definition of new processors and architectures in his search for the holy grail of computing: infinite performance at zero power consumption. Statistically speaking he is convinced it is just a matter of time.
Allen started in the ‘semiconductor IP industry’ before it was called the ‘semiconductor IP industry’. Back then, it was about ‘megafunctions’, ‘megablocks’ or MegaMacros™ (as trademarked by the pioneering UK IP company Allen was with… no, not that UK company). The biggest of these ‘mega’ things was an 8051! Today, of course, IP blocks are much larger and much more complex. And, it’s about the software, as well as the hardware. It’s also about working with a set of partners, sometimes called an ecosystem or community. Allen has been doing that for many years and is enjoying working with old and new friends on the ARC processor ecosystem.