A Sale of Thirty-Two Bitties

AMD’s Multi-pronged Strategy Is Certainly Different, But Is It Better?

by Jim Turley

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”   Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Is AMD the best microprocessor maker in the world, or the worst? Is the company more competitive than it’s ever been, or about to hit bottom? Are they blazing a trail to success, or on the road to perdition?

Or the real question: Are you planning to buy AMD chips or aren’t you?

 

EUV’s Second Source

Adlyte Announces Actinic Inspection Source Milestone

by Bryon Moyer

We, along with the rest of the lithography world, have been charting the progress of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology. There are a number of puzzle pieces required to enable that technology fully, but most eyes have been on the light source for patterning wafers: increasing source power has been a major requirement for achieving the kinds of throughput needed for high-volume manufacturing.

In fact, this concept of turning out large volumes of material is what separates science-project technology from production technology, so much so that “high-volume manufacturing” has earned its own TLA: HVM.

If you are thusly focused, then it may come as a surprise that there’s a completely different EUV source project underway, one that requires less power – but more brightness. One that, for different reasons, is also critical to a smooth manufacturing process.

 

Apple and Serious Security: NOT an Oxymoron

Cryptographic Processor Has Utility Well Beyond Apple Pay

by Bruce Kleinman, FSVadvisors

I know most of you read the first few words of the title up to the colon and thought, “Oh jeez, he’s back on his Serious Security Soapbox and using the Apple celebrity photo hack as a cautionary tale.” Hardly. And lest anyone think I’ve been hard on Apple of late vis-à-vis their eponymous smart watch, I am going to build a veritable security fortress using the iPhone 6.

Let’s start with backup, as in backing up your data, as in that REALLY important thing that most people cannot be bothered with. I’ve taken backup VERY seriously since WAY back for the purely practical reason that storage media weren’t at all reliable:

  • I started backing up paper tape the first time one of my programs was shredded by a jam in the tape reader
  • I started backing up tape storage the first time one of my tape cartridges unspooled
  • I started backing up floppies the first time I left one on top of the monitor, which at the time were things called “cathode ray tubes” that emitted magnetic fields
  • I started backing up hard drives immediately, because those early 10 MB [sic] units experienced head crashes if you sneezed in their vicinity
 

I Brick Your Chip

Driver Update Disables Counterfeit Chips

by Jim Turley

It sounds like something out of a spy thriller. A piece of security software, masquerading as a routine driver update, sniffs out enemy chips and terminates them with extreme prejudice. There is no fix; the chip, and everything it’s connected to, is bricked.

Sneaky, huh? And not really all that hard to implement. With nearly everything connected “to the cloud,” it’s easy to insert new software remotely. And we’re all accustomed to downloading and installing new drivers every few weeks, so there’s nothing suspicious that would tip anyone off.

Except…

The case this week involves FTDI, a company that makes popular and inexpensive USB-interface chips. You’ve probably got one inside some device nearby, or you’ve used FTDI chips in your own designs.

 

Constraining Light

Or, How the Heck Do I Design a Photonic Circuit?

by Bryon Moyer

Several weeks ago we took a look at the expanding role of EDA. And then a couple weeks ago we delved into the bizarre world of silicon photonics. Yeah, we didn’t get too deep because the bottom drops off pretty quickly, and I’m not sure I could tread water credibly any deeper. But we got a flavor.

So now, we bring these two things together to answer the question, “If I’m going to be involved in a photonic chip design, what tools am I going to use?” OK, so if you’re an electronics designer, you’ll probably be asking the question, “What tools will the photonics pholks be using, and how will thier world interface to mine?”

Folks have been doing silicon photonics research for a long time now, and you need tools to do that. So it’s not like we’re just now seeing the emergence of new tools for this purpose. The thing is, there’s not a lot of profit in research, so the big guys that are commercially driven may not be attracted to such new endeavors in the early stages.

 

Grabbing Keys Out of Thin Air

Rambus’s AES Crypto IP Resists DPA Attacks

by Jim Turley

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

You have got to be kidding me. I mean, I’m an engineer. I know how stuff works. And you’re telling me you can somehow snag my computer’s encryption keys out of thin air? No way. No. @%$#-ing. Way.

Way.

I’ve seen it happen. I didn’t believe it at first, but there’s nothing quite like a live demonstration to make you a convert. It’s time to stock up on tinfoil hats. Here’s the background: Practically every computer, cell phone, tablet, cable TV decoder, satellite box, smartcard, modern passport, or other gizmo uses encryption in some way.

 

Do-It-Yourself Linux Machine

Synopsys ARC HS38 Processor Has An Embarrassment of Options

by Jim Turley

It’s a good month for microprocessor aficionados, what with the new Cortus twins, the MIPS I6400, AMD’s Hierofalcon, and now Synopsys’s ARC HS38. There’s still some differentiation to be had in this market.

Followers of Synopsys know that the EDA company acquired ARC, the CPU-design firm, several years ago and folded the CPU IP into its DesignWare library system. Indeed, the processor cores are branded as DesignWare, reflecting the reality that ARC processors are more like a design tool than a traditional CPU core. That’s because ARC processors are user-defined. You can add and subtract registers, create your own instructions, invent new condition codes, bolt on in-house coprocessors, and more. Every ARC processor has the capability to be unique and oh-so-finely tuned to its intended application, a feature that many developers really like. It must be working: ARC cores have appeared in 1.5 billion chips just in this year alone.

 

Light-Headed Circuits

Decoding Some of the Bizarreness That Is Photonics

by Bryon Moyer

It’s coming to a piece of silicon near you.

You may not create it; you may remain microns away from it. But there’s a good chance that, someday, it will be on your chip. And you might want to know something about it, because it will be your neighbor.

Exactly who is moving into your ‘hood? Just a few bizarre-looking circuits. Ones that look nothing like the circuits you’re used to. At all.

That’s because they don’t conduct electricity; they conduct light. We’re talking silicon photonics* here. And there’s been talk about it for a while, but, I don’t know, it feels to me like we’re starting to near the time when this becomes a reality for commercial chips. Call it a hunch.

My senses were first jarred when I saw some of the components used in a photonic circuit. They. Made. No. Sense. Whatsoever. So I’ve been doing some poking around, trying to figure stuff out based on the rather extensive amount of research on the web.

 

Holey SuperCap!

“Holey Graphene” Stores More Energy in Less Space

by Bryon Moyer

There’s this meeting of technologies subtly underway. On one side we have batteries, which store more energy. On the other, we have supercaps, which deliver higher power. As we’ve mentioned in the past, technology seems to be evolving to bring the two together, blurring the distinction. The best combination is one of high energy storage and high power, and, while we’re not necessarily there yet, a team at UCLA has published some results for a supercapacitor with storage properties approaching that of a lead-acid battery.

First, though, a couple of figures of merit. Absolute energy capacity and power are important, but they can be applied only to a given supercap or battery. A bigger unit will store more energy, for example. There are two measures for evaluating the storage capacity normalized for either weight or size, generically known as the specific capacitance, and they’re properties of the energy-storing material.

 

AMD Fails to Impress

Hierofalcon Processor Does Pretty Much What It’s Supposed To

by Jim Turley

I really wanted to like this chip. But then I talked to the manufacturer.

Let me explain. Your humble servants here at Electronic Engineering Journal talk to a lot of people at a lot of different companies. That’s what we do. The vendors tell us about their whizzy new chip, or new software, or new business venture, or whatever. We listen politely at first, knowing that the vendor will – quite rightly – present the product in its best possible light. That’s their job.

Now, if we were working for some other publications or online journals I could name, we’d just print whatever the vendor told us. “New chip promises to revolutionize Internet of Things!” or “Software update is a game-changer!” or “Company reveals new product and you’ll never guess what happens next!” We’ve all seen those types of breathless (and brainless) headlines. But here at EEJ we like to do a little better. That’s our job.

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