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IBM, Sun testing faster, less power-consuming chips

Aug 10, 20042 mins
Data CenterIBM

* IBM, Sun separately building better processors

IBM and Sun are both working on technologies to make faster processors that consume less power.

IBM’s technology is called eFuse. It blends software algorithms with small, electrical fuses to create chips that can change their actions in response to changing needs. EFuse-enabled chips could automatically change their configuration to increase performance or reduce possible problems.

IBM compares the technology to the way highway traffic patterns are altered by opening and closing new lanes.

EFuse is part of a built-in repair system that monitors a chip’s functionality. If the system detects an imperfection, eFuse initiates corrective actions by tripping the electrical fuses. The fuses help the chip control circuit speed and manage power consumption. If eFuse detects that a chip is malfunctioning because circuits are running too slow or too fast, it can reduce the performance of the circuits or speed them up by controlling the voltage.

IBM is implementing eFuse in its Power5 and eServer systems.

Sun is testing a technology called proximity communications that lets a chip transmit signals to the chip next to it, speeding data transfers between chips. Energy consumption would decrease, and defective chips could be removed without affecting the operation of other chips.

Today signals are passed through pins, wires and circuit boards. Proximity communications involves placing adjacent chips face to face so the receiver circuit of one chip is coupled to the transmitter circuit of the other, eliminating the pins or wires that normally would connect the two. With this arrangement you get a stronger signal with less power. A small amount of oil between the chips increases their coupling.

Sun is creating the technology for a supercomputer the Defense Advanced Research Planning Agency (DARPA) wants built by 2010. In 2006, DARPA will decide whether Sun, Cray or IBM will build the supercomputer.

Sun researchers working on proximity communications claim they can transfer data at 21.6G bit/sec. They say that over time they will be able to increase that performance to 5 terabits per second.