mobile | classic
Dataweek Electronics & Communications Technology Magazine





Follow us on:
Follow us on Facebook Share via Twitter Share via LinkedIn


Search...

Electronics Buyers' Guide

Electronics Manufacturing & Production Handbook 2017


 

Time for the clockless computer chip
26 February 2003, Computer/Embedded Technology

Time is literally running out for the conventional range of computers that we now use. Since the advent of fast and complex systems in the 1960s, all hardware design has been based on the principle of the clock.

This is in the guise of a microelectronic crystal that emits rapid pulses of electricity to synchronise the flow of data. So much so, that such a crystal can be best described as the heart of the Pentium processor and other similar chips.

Despite this apparent success story, progress has now overtaken the ubiquitous clock and turned it into the computer's Achilles heel. The fatal flaw is that computer systems are now so complex that clocks are imposing limitations on performance.

But help is at hand. In response to this massive problem, a group of UK scientists have developed a new generation of hardware blocks and design tools based on the ideas originally introduced in the 1950s. Their asynchronous, or clock-free systems, hold out the exciting promise of extra speed, safety, security and miniaturisation.

Future face: the layout of a ‘clockless’ microchip. Chips such as these hold out the exciting promise of extra speed, safety and security along with further miniaturisation.
Future face: the layout of a ‘clockless’ microchip. Chips such as these hold out the exciting promise of extra speed, safety and security along with further miniaturisation.

"The new designs already work well in the laboratory and are only awaiting the development of software tools so that they can be produced commercially," says Professor Alex Yakovlev, who leads the team of researchers in the Department of Computing Science at Newcastle University, northeast England.

They presented two groundbreaking papers at an international symposium on advanced research in asynchronous circuits and systems at Manchester, England. One paper explains the latest techniques the team has developed for synthesising asynchronous systems; the other relates to measuring time intervals and what is known as metastability, a problem which may be the cause of the death knell for conventional computers.

The root of the problem here is that electrical pulses, travelling at the speed of light, are not fast enough to keep accurate time as they visit tens of millions of transistors on a single chip. The result is that errors begin to occur in data.

This metastability phenomenon is a fundamental and insoluble problem which is causing increasing difficulty for designers who have to balance the demand for speed and complexity of systems with the need for reliability.

"In binary terms, incoming data has a metastable state in which it is neither true nor false," says Professor Yakovlev. "A resulting system failure would be inconvenient to a PC user and could result in a disaster in an industry where reliability is critical, such as aviation."

Asynchronous systems rely on a protocol of data transmission and acknowledgement which is not regulated by time. This can happen locally in a computer or globally between computers. Data is exchanged by means of a 'handshake', or agreement on the mutually acceptable protocol.

Computer clocks generate heat as well as high frequencies, because they consume large amounts of power. To abolish them would allow portable devices to run on less power, enabling further miniaturisation.

There is an added security bonus with this fresh approach. Hackers would also be troubled by asynchronous systems, because the irregular pattern of data transmission allows the information to be encrypted far more effectively than at present.

Professor Yakovlev believes that the clock-based system is nearing the end of its useful life, with designers facing increasing difficulties as systems become more complex.

"One of the problems is that all graduates entering the industry are immediately taught to design systems with clocks," he adds. "It will be difficult to persuade them to change their ways. We have shown that asynchronous systems work, but we need to develop simple tools for commercial design and testing purposes. In my opinion, this is the last piece of the jigsaw," he added.

One of the barriers is that designing asynchronous systems requires the use of a new hardware design language involving concepts of concurrency, partial order, causality, handshake communication and so on and which are generally unknown to an average electronic engineer.

One such language is called Petri Nets. At Newcastle, scientists are developing a design system which overcomes this problem by automatically translating a Petri Net description of the intended circuit behaviour into an orthodox logic design language as asynchronous circuit designs are mapped out.

Such innovations are making asynchronous technology a more attractive commercial proposition and there are signs that the world is now at the dawn of the transitional period.

Scientists talk of an intermediate class of systems being developed and called GALS for globally asynchronous, locally synchronous. It is an open secret in IT circles that international electronics company Philips has produced an experimental pager built from asynchronous circuits and is developing other devices based on the same principle.

It is also rumoured that a leading manufacturer is designing the next generation of computer processor with at least some asynchronous elements. Time moves on as times change.

For more information contact Mick Warwicker, Newcastle University, 0944 191 222 7850, or see www.cs.nel.ac.uk/people/alex.yakovlev


  Share on Facebook Share via Twitter Share via LinkedIn    

Further reading:

  • Rugged CompactPCI Serial system
    13 June 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    The SRP-3201-BLUBOXX series of miniature CompactPCI Serial systems from EKF is suitable for all industrial requirements, even under harsh conditions. With its small dimensions of 172 x 168 x 208 mm ...
  • CompactPCI Serial carrier board
    16 May 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    EKF Elektronik’s SK4-WALTZ is a peripheral slot board for CompactPCI Serial systems and acts as carrier card for an XMC-style mezzanine module. XMC modules are specified by ANSI/VITA 42, as an advanced ...
  • System-on-module for embedded Linux designs
    16 May 2018, Avnet South Africa, Computer/Embedded Technology
    There is a great deal of design effort and complexity associated with creating an industrial-grade microprocessor (MPU)-based system running a Linux operating system. Even developers with expertise in ...
  • SBC for gateways, data-loggers and HMI
    16 May 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    With the MBa6ULxL, the technology company TQ has introduced a new SBC (single board computer) based on the NUC form factor. The platform, consisting of the mainboard and the module, allows for the fast ...
  • The rise of edge computing
    18 April 2018, TRX Electronics, This Week's Editor's Pick, Computer/Embedded Technology
    Edge computing in relation to IoT is opening up new opportunities for embedded designers.
  • XMC module for signal processing
    18 April 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    Pentek introduced the newest member of the Jade family of high-performance data converter XMC modules based on the Xilinx Kintex Ultrascale FPGA. The Model 71800 is a co-processor module with an XMC ...
  • Motherboards ensure stable supply stream
    18 April 2018, Computer/Embedded Technology
    Falling under its CSM (Corporate Stable Model) programme, ASUS offers motherboard solutions for all major chipsets, including value segments such as the Intel H110. They are available in a wide range ...
  • CompactPCI Serial carrier board
    18 April 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    EKF Elektronik’s SK4-WALTZ is a peripheral slot board for CompactPCI Serial systems and acts as carrier card for an XMC-style mezzanine module. XMC modules are specified by ANSI/VITA 42, as an advanced ...
  • Embedded computer for machine vision
    18 April 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    Connect Tech’s Cogswell vision system is powered by NVIDIA Jetson. This system is pre-integrated with the Jetson TX2 or Jetson TX1 supercomputer-on-module, providing 256 CUDA cores on the NVIDIA Pascal ...
  • Development board in USB key fob format
    18 April 2018, Electrocomp Express, Computer/Embedded Technology
    PocketBeagle is an ultra-tiny yet complete open-source USB key fob computer belonging to the Beagle Board family. Suitable for beginners and professionals alike, the development board is Linux-based and ...
  • XMC module for defence and radar systems
    21 March 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    Pentek introduced the newest member of the Jade family of high-performance data converter XMC modules based on the Xilinx Kintex Ultrascale FPGA. The Model 71132 is an XMC module featuring eight 250 ...
  • Rugged box PC for mobile applications
    21 March 2018, Rugged Interconnect Technologies, Computer/Embedded Technology
    MEN's latest box PC, the BL51E, is equipped by default with an Intel Atom E3950 processor running at 1,6 GHz, and offers performance scalability through a variety of other dual-/quad-core processors from ...

 
 
         
Contact:
Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd
1st Floor, Stabilitas House
265 Kent Ave, Randburg, 2194
South Africa
Publications by Technews
Dataweek Electronics & Communications Technology
Electronic Buyers Guide (EBG)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions
Hi-Tech Security Business Directory

Motion Control in Southern Africa
Motion Control Buyers’ Guide (MCBG)

South African Instrumentation & Control
South African Instrumentation & Control Buyers’ Guide (IBG)
Other
Terms & conditions of use, including privacy policy
PAIA Manual





 

         
    Classic | Mobile

Copyright © Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved.