Cadence just published a story about working with IBM on developing advanced Spice-level simulation models for IBM’s advanced SOI (silicon on insulator) IC processes to achieve better correlation between the circuit simulation results and the actual silicon. Now you only need that good correlation if you’re going to actually produce some chips from the process and that’s been happening for a while now, so I thought I’d review some of the chips that take advantage of IBM’s 45nm SOI process that I’ve covered in the EDA360 Insider and also discuss some of the chips not yet covered in this blog.
Perhaps the most famous 45nm SOI chips from IBM live inside of Watson, the IBM computer that became a champion at playing the TV game show “Jeopardy!” (See “Can SOI power help IBM’s Watson win at ‘Jeopardy!’?”) Watson uses a total of 2880 IBM Power7 processors in 90 clustered IBM Power 750 servers. Watson exploits SOI’s ability to both goose the performance of the process node and to reduce operating power, which seems really important when you’re operating nearly 3000 processors.
Speaking of playing games, Nintendo showed the next-generation Wii U gaming system at this year’s E3 gaming conference. IBM has said that the Wii U gaming system is based on a Power-Architecture microprocessor built with—you guessed it—IBM’s 45nm SOI process. (See “IBM’s 45nm SOI microprocessors at core of Nintendo Wii U”)
Now both of these two uses are from this year and are for IBM’s Power-Architecture microprocessors, but don’t get the idea that IBM’s 45nm SOI process technology is so narrowly restricted. Way back in 2009, ARM announced that it had bumped the operating frequency of an ARM 1176 processor core on a test chip by 20% using IBM’s 45nm SOI process and also realized a 40% savings in power consumption as a byproduct. (See “ARM Announces 45nm SOI Test Chip Results That Demonstrate Potential 40 Percent Power Savings Over Bulk Process”)
So much for the past, now for the future. This month, IBM announced that it had built some very futuristic cognitive computing chips that emulate the neurons and synapses of the human brain under the third phase of a DARPA contract called SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics)—try saying that three times in quick succession. IBM has built two working prototype designs—both with 256 neurons, one with 262,144 programmable synapses, and one with 65,536 learning synapses—using its 45nm SOI process. (See “IBM Unveils Cognitive Computing Chips”)
Interesting stuff, no? And none of this happens unless the circuit simulations first say it will work. Otherwise, the chips don’t get built, Watson doesn’t become a Jeopardy! Champion, and you won’t get a new Nintendo Wii U next year.