April 22, 2009

University of California at Davis has a 167-processor Chip Is Super-fast, Ultra Energy-efficient

The UC Davis chip, dubbed AsAP, is ultra-small, fully reprogrammable and highly configurable, so it can be widely adapted to a number of applications.

Maximum clock speed for the 167-processor AsAP is 1.2 gigahertz (GHz), but at slower speeds its energy efficiency soars. Twelve chips working together could perform more than half-a-trillion operations per second (.52 Tera-ops/sec) while using less power than a 7-watt light bulb.

The chip is designed for digital signal processing which are used for cell phones, MP3 music players, video equipment, anti-lock brakes and ultrasound and MRI medical imaging machines.

“A battery powering this chip will typically last from several times to 75 times longer than it would under the same workload when powering some of the common commercially available digital signal processing chips,” said Bevan Baas, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of the design team. “At the same time, with our targeted applications, we’re getting several times to 10 times better speed than what is currently available — all with a much smaller chip. To the best of our knowledge, this is the highest clock-rate processor chip designed at any university.”

Built with industry-standard fabrication technology and design tools, the chip embodies a number of novel architectural and circuit features, Baas explained. Throughout the design process, his group took energy efficiency and high speed into consideration. “These were two of our main objectives, which we never gave up on during the planning stages. And all those choices added up,” he said.

Baas’ group has written a number of software applications for the chip, which has been fabricated by the international electronics company STMicrotronics. It took one student just three months to write “a fully compliant Wi-Fi transmitter,” Baas said. They have also written a Wi-Fi receiver and several complex components of an H.264 video encoder. After testing the chip extensively, it has worked without a glitch, Baas added.

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