‘Dark Silicon’

Dark silicon refers to the underutilized transistors on a microprocessor. And those transistors are deliberately shut down during certain operations in order to contain the heat buildup that otherwise might fry the entire chip.

Some experts now say up to one-fifth of the of the transistors on the higher-performing chips will need to “go dark” to stem the chances of incorrect results at the least and a fried chip at the worst.

While users perpetually want faster devices, a group of US researchers have modeled expected microprocessor speeds and utilization and found that computing speeds will rise only 8 times their current pace over the next 15 years because of the limitations caused by potential overheating. They further argue that speeds would increase about 47 times if the problems of heat can be overcome.

The solution? While dual and quad core microprocessors have become mainstream today, more advanced chips could have between 100 and 1000 cores. Intel, for one, already uses multiple cores and next-gen chips will optimize those cores for different operations, helping to reduce the amount of power used (and thus heat generated).


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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow