Best Processor Technology of 2012January 21, 2013
Author: Tom R. Halfhill
The best new technology doesn't grow on trees but can be found in a mesh. For its achievements in replacing conventional clock-signal trees with a resonant clock mesh and easing the design of high-performance chips, Cyclos nets The Linley Group's Analysts' Choice Award for the best new microprocessor-related technology of 2012.
High-speed processors impose many design challenges, not the least being the rising power consumption of complex clock trees. Essential for uniform timing, these circuits have numerous branches that carry clock signals to every nook and cranny of a chip. But as processors get faster and more complex, clock trees struggle to keep up and can account for one-third of the chip's power consumption.
The leading alternative, especially for processors exceeding 2.0GHz, is a clock mesh, which consumes about as much power as a clock tree but enables higher performance. Cyclos reduces power consumption in clock meshes by connecting them with integrated inductors to form resonant LC oscillators.
But resonant meshes pose design challenges of their own. To ease their implementation, Cyclos has developed a resonant clock mesh packaged as licensable intellectual property (IP). It uses much less power than a clock tree and is already winning converts. AMD used Cyclos technology to design its next-generation Piledriver CPU core, and ARM is also a licensee. Two undisclosed companies have licensed the technology for future chips based on the ARM Cortex-A15.
Although resonant clock meshes aren't new, Cyclos has pioneered their commercialization. The startup's semiconductor IP, development tools, and consulting services bring these meshes within reach of many more chip designers. Cyclos also has exclusive rights to some fundamental patents in the field, an outgrowth of the company's roots at the University of Michigan.