Clive Maxfield, EE Times(02/20/2006 10:00 AM EST)
The first commercial microprocessor, Intel's 4004, debuted in 1971 with 2,300 transistors, a 108-kHz system clock and a 4-bit bus. Since then, chip architects have increased the computational performance and throughput of the 4004's successors by increasing the transistor count, the data bus width or the clock speed, and by introducing such execution-related tweaks as pipelining and speculative execution.
But as those traditional techniques run out of steam, microprocessor and system designers are breaking out of the mold and crafting architectures that combine multiple processing cores combined with reconfigurable computing techniques.
Applications often drive the type of solution. For example, an FPGA may perform certain DSP tasks very efficiently, but one typically wouldn't use one as the main processing element in a desktop computer. Similarly, Intel and AMD processors are applicable to a wide variety of computing applications, but you wouldn't expect to find one powering a cell phone.
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