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Moore's Law Struggling to Keep Up

Moore's Law Struggling to Keep Up

We've been hearing for years that Moore's Law is about to meet its Waterloo, and we better start doing something about it. Now.

If you've ever wondered why it's so important to do something now, then consider the following statistics, which Freescale Semiconductor trotted out during its Freescale Technology Forum last week.

  • By 2015, there will be 10 billion smart mobile devices connected to the Internet. That's about 1.5 devices for every person on the planet.
  • Within five years, a new generation of super tablets is expected to surpass PCs.
  • By 2015, Internet users in China and India will have doubled.
  • Between 2010 and 2015, global mobile device traffic will have increased by a factor of 26.
  • By 2013, wireless Internet traffic will exceed wired traffic.

"Moore's Law alone will not keep up with these requirements," said Rich Beyer, chairman and CEO of Freescale Semiconductor, during his keynote speech at the conference. Multicore solutions are critical to meeting the needs of the next five years, he added.

Technical challenges exist on both sides of the Internet -- the network side and the device side. The network side needs faster processing for wireless base stations, datacenters, enterprise applications, and storage. The device side, meanwhile, seems to have an insatiable appetite for bandwidth in cellphones, tablet computers, e-readers, medical devices, factory automation systems, and scores of other products.

That's why Freescale last week rolled out two big families of multicore processors. The idea is to overcome the Moore's Law obstacle by using anywhere from four to a dozen processor cores. To be sure, competitors -- including AMD, Analog Devices, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, NVidia, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments, and others -- have rolled out multicore devices. But Freescale has raised the bar a little here, not only in terms of raw performance, but in its focus on both sides of the Internet.

On the device side, Freescale unveiled the first working silicon for the i.MX 6 family of devices, which scales up from one to four CPU cores. The i.MX 6 is built on ARM Cortex A9 cores, targeted at consumer electronics.

"This fits the ecosystem for handhelds," said Ken Obuszewski, director of product management for Freescale's Multimedia Applications Division, during an interview at the conference. "All of the people doing handhelds are either using ARM or x86."

The i.MX 6 family is especially strong in video processing. It includes dual-stream 1080p H.264 video processing for 3D-class video decoding. "When you have embedded video and graphics and 1080p displays, you need a lot of processing," Obuszewski said. "All that data throughput and multi-media processing -- how else are you going to handle it?"

On the network side, Freescale rolled out its QorIQ AMP multi-core platform, which is built atop a multi-threaded 64-bit Power Architecture core. The family of devices can have up to 12 physical cores and 24 "virtual cores." The virtual core concept is based on two threads per core, which enable one physical core to operate almost like two.

The QorIQ AMP family is targeted at routing and switching applications, but it also goes beyond that. Freescale engineers say they foresee it being employed in smart meters and automobiles, as well as wireless base stations and datacenters.

"This level of performance is really important," said Danny Mulligan, director of NPD marketing for Freescale's Networking and Multimedia Group, during the conference. "Our customers need help in meeting the tsunami of demand from their customers."

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