Scaling Arm Chips

Scale is something we teach in mathematics and physics. The surface area of a cube scales as the square of its dimensions. The area of a square scales as the square of its dimensions. If you double the dimensions, the area increases four times and the volume increases eight times. ARM has the reverse problem, as they make their CPUs smaller within an acceptable power drain, and the perfornance goes up according to Moore’s Law, they run into the problem of “Dark Silicon”. Large areas of the chip currently available will be unusable. The Inquirer has a good article giving an overview of this from a talk by ARM. Unfortunately, they fail to state why this is a problem. Getting more computing power for the same energy consumption is a good thing. What’s bad about this is that as the chip becomes smaller it gets harder to connect the chip to the outside world. Bus-driving lines become too small to carry the load and so forth. Also the robots that handle the chips will be hard pressed to handle devices of the size conceivable in the next ten years. A solution I have proposed is stacking chips or using multiple chips but this is tricky. It becomes a more complicated task, in software, to keep everything working together. This is a huge plus for GNU/Linux which has a big lead over M$ in clustering/HPC. The same techniques can be used to link a bunch of ARM chips usefully. They may still have to resort to bus drivers to interface to the world outside the chips.

What TFA article does mention is that the computing power now available is sufficient for any earthly need for the end-user. This is the end of Wintel which lives or dies on its ability to convince consumers to spend ever larger amounts of cash on “upgrading” to a new PC that runs slower than the one previous. If consumers’ PCs do what they want, they will keep using them with XP or GNU/Linux or whatever. The necessity to buy new machines every few years is gone.

TFA also does hint that with ARM it is conceivable that devices for power users and servers are just around the corner. In the Year of ARM, all things are possible. AMD and Intel are now producing chips with multiple cores each of which is more powerful than necessary. ARM can just walk in and take up slack because there is no way Wintel can offer more than ARM can. We see that in smartbooks now. There are more apps available for ARM on smartbooks than that other OS because developers can move phone apps to ARM on a smartbook very easily. There are tons of phone apps out there.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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