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Innovation

A revolution for clocking

A Californian startup company has unveiled a new chip clock technology. Its Rotary Wave technology can be used to design electronic circuits operating with precise timing intervals as small as a picosecond while saving 75% of the power consumed with conventional clocking approaches.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

In "Chip Power Breakthrough Reported," the Wall Street Journal explains that a Californian startup company has unveiled a new chip clock technology. This Rotary Wave technology can be used to design electronic circuits operating with precise timing intervals as small as a picosecond while saving 75% of the power consumed with conventional clocking approaches. And as it works on a large variety of CMOS and SiGe BiCMOS manufacturing processes, several semiconductor companies are evaluating the technology for using it in microprocessors and in wireless communications. Read more...

Here is the introduction of the Wall Street Journal article.

A tiny Silicon Valley company is proposing a novel way to synchronize the operations of computer chips, addressing power-consumption problems that are a major issue facing the semiconductor industry.
Multigig Inc., a closely held start-up company in Scotts Valley, Calif., says its technology is a major advance over the clock circuitry used on many kinds of chips.

As access to the articles from the Wall Street journal is not free, let's look at this Multigig's technology overview for more details.

In high performance digital applications such as microprocessors, graphics chips, and digital signal processing the clock signal can consume well over 50% of the total power dissipation of the chip. Indeed, the clock power is often the limiting element in the performance of the design.
[So] Multigig has developed a fundamentally new approach to clocks and timing in electronics that leads to greatly improved product architectures.

Below is an illustration of the rotary clock design used by Multigig (Credit: Philip Restle, IBM).

Rotary Clock simulation

The above simulation shows how the transmission lines are using the concept of Möbius "termination." You'll find more details in this presentation (PDF format, 23 pages, 1.22 MB).

One advantage of this technology is its extremely fine resolution. It should be possible "to generate hundreds and even thousands of precise phases of each clock period. This allows Multigig to design electronic circuits that can robustly operate with precise timing intervals as small as a picosecond."

But even if this technology allows to consume less power and can be used with many manufacturing processes, some analysts don't think it will be widely adopted in the near future, as says the Wall Street Journal.

"This is a dramatic way of clocking circuits," said Steve Ohr, an analyst at Gartner Inc. He cautioned it could take years to get existing manufacturers to modify existing products to take advantage of the new technology. "Intel is not going to redesign the Pentium tomorrow because of it," he said.

In the mean time, Multigig is working with several semiconductor companies and expects to release new products based on its technology this quarter.

Sources: Don Clark, The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2006; Multigig web site

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