As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. “We’re seeing Moore’s law slowing,” says Mark Papermaster, chief technology officer at chip designer AMD. “You’re still getting more density but it costs more and takes longer. It’s a fundamental change.” Wired has a feature story which looks at those alternatives and the progress chipmakers have been able to make with them so far. From a report: AMD’s Papermaster is part of an industry-wide effort around a new doctrine of chip design that Intel, AMD, and the Pentagon all say can help keep computers improving at the pace Moore’s law has conditioned society to expect. The new approach comes with a snappy name: chiplets. You can think of them as something like high-tech Lego blocks. Instead of carving new processors from silicon as single chips, semiconductor companies assemble them from multiple smaller pieces of silicon — known as chiplets. “I think the whole industry is going to be moving in this direction,” Papermaster says. Ramune Nagisetty, a senior principal engineer at Intel, agrees. She calls it “an evolution of Moore’s law.”
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is that it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip. That makes it easier to serve customer demand, for example for chips customized to machine learning, says Nagisetty. New artificial-intelligence-powered services such as Google’s Duplex bot that makes phone calls are enabled in part by chips specialized for running AI algorithms.
Chiplets also provide a way to minimize the challenges of building with cutting-edge transistor technology. The latest, greatest, and smallest transistors are also the trickiest and most expensive to design and manufacture with. In processors made up of chiplets, that cutting-edge technology can be reserved for the pieces of a design where the investment will most pay off. Other chiplets can be made using more reliable, established, and cheaper techniques. Smaller pieces of silicon are also inherently less prone to manufacturing defects.
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