Patience And Power

Our unwillingness to wait for anything is having an enormous impact on SoC design.

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Prior to the invention of the railroad, the fastest anyone or anything traveled on the planet was the fastest horse, which is what made horse racing particularly interesting for centuries. And most SoC designers are old enough to remember the days when overnight delivery was considered a good thing. Even the Millennials are old enough to remember hourglasses on the screen, and the X Gens can easily remember the sound of dial-up modems making a connection.

It’s not unusual to go into an office and see someone cursing their PC because the back-end system is slow. And most people don’t have the patience to deal with a slow site. They simply move on to another site.

We have very rapidly—in the span of 10 years—become a global community of impatient people. Waiting is the enemy. And while this probably will have some really weird psycho-social effects in the long term, it’s also changing the dynamics of how we communicate. We seem to be very tolerant of dropped calls, but we are absolutely livid when a search function is slow or a streaming video gets interrupted.

And all of this leads to the next piece of the equation—how to provide sufficient performance to satisfy the most time-obsessive consumers while allowing them to go longer between charges.

This will likely be tackled in several ways. First, the battery charge issue will have to be addressed from some sort of energy scavenging rather than battery improvement. There are some interesting technologies being developed today that will provide watts rather than microwatts of power. You might even be able to use this kind of generation capability to charge your household in case of a power outage.

Second, SoC designs will have to be done in an increasingly holistic manner, incorporating everything from hardware to the full stack of software so that applications are provided the right amount of performance and energy. One size fits all no longer works, and it will look increasingly obsolete in a 2.5D or 3D stack.

Finally, more attention will need to be paid to the power of a signal and how that gets transmitted and used by a mobile device. It’s amazing how well a device works in airplane mode and how little battery it uses. That’s the base point for what can be done with a better baseband infrastructure.

This will all take time, of course. And by the time it all gets put in place, consumers will be clamoring for even fewer and shorter delays. This will provide plenty of work for SoC engineers for years to come, but they may have to work even faster than before, which will make them even less tolerant of delays in design flows. In the end, no one will escape this snowball.


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