The transistors of modern integrated circuits work 500-1000 times faster than those available when the basic architectures of the most common processors were designed. These are therefore far from optimal today.
Processors are now mainly used in embedded systems, and focus has shifted from performance to energy efficiency, i.e. how much work that can be performed per unit of energy. This can definitely be improved by doing things differently.
An energy efficient processor architecture
If you could work twice as fast, you could do someone else’s job besides your own.
In the Imsys processor, transistors in the datapath take on more of the different chores, reducing the need for expensive specialists. This reduces the need for movement of data and the number of steps in the work process – i.e. it reduces the total energy required for the execution of the task at hand.
It also reduces its passive consumption, because there are fewer specialists idling, waiting for the less common tasks that require their special skills.
The fewer steps also mean that the program is smaller, which leads to reduced active and passive consumption also in the memory.
The flexible workforce and variety of tasks require that the management has readymade instructions for how all the most important subtasks should be performed efficiently with the available resources. In the Imsys processor the management is more intelligent because it uses firmware rather than only hardware. The set of instructions is therefore rich and varied, and can even be extended in different ways for different applications.
The instructions are often much more complex than those performed by other processors. Many of them do multiple memory accesses and the set includes instructions that operate on all commonly used data formats. They include very different routines, such as Java bytecodes, crypto algorithms, graphics, and media processing, functions that can be of crucial importance in modern embedded systems.
Executing these internally in the processor, instead of as software routines, is very energy efficient. Somewhat like having the advantage of different specialized hardware blocks without having their extra silicon and leakage current when they are not used.
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