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Technical Perspective: The Specialization Trend in Computer Hardware

The breakdown of Dennard scaling has become a new challenge that computer architects face as we move to smaller technology nodes. In the past, Dennard scaling meant that speed increased, power dropped, and area shrank. And, following Moore's Law, this triple win was achieved without appreciable increase in chip cost. This remarkable era in which Moore's Law held sway is drawing to a close for CMOS-based technology, and, as we transition to sub-20nm feature sizes, at least two of these improvements—speed and power—are grinding to a halt. In fact, several pundits have argued the 28nm node may be the cheapest node in terms of cost per transistor.

This slowdown in scaling will have a profound impact across the whole spectrum of computing, starting with the manner in which hardware systems are architected in a future where increased functionality and much tighter power constraints will be the norm. Nowhere is this more apparent than in mobile platforms, particularly smartphones, where there are ever-increasing demands for functionality without compromising battery life. It will no longer always be possible to simply move to the next-generation general-purpose computer to meet tighter energy-performance constraints.


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