Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The next generation of computers will be timeless

08.04.2002


Time is running out for the clocks that make our computers tick. Scientists have developed a new generation of hardware and software based on the simpler designs of the 1950s.



Asynchronous, or clock-free systems, promise extra speed, safety, security and miniaturisation. The new designs 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 and fellow researchers in the Department of Computing Science at Newcastle University, England.

This week (April 8-12) the Newcastle team will present two papers at the International Symposium on Advanced Research into Asynchronous Circuits and Systems, in Manchester, England (see web link). One paper explains the pioneering techniques the team has developed for synthesizing asynchronous systems, the other relates to measuring metastability — a problem which may sound the death knell of conventional computers.


Because computers of the 1950s were relatively simple, they could function without clocks. Since the advent of faster and more complex systems in the 1960s, all hardware design has been based on the principle of the clock — a microelectronic crystal which emits rapid pulses of electricity to synchronise the flow of data. In modern PCs, this is at the heart of the Pentium Processor.

But computer systems are now so complex that clocks are imposing limitations on performance. The 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. The phenomenon is known as metastability, 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,’ said 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 within a computer or globally between computers. Before data is exchanged, there must first be a ‘handshake’, or agreement on the mutually acceptable protocol.

Computer clocks generate heat as well as high frequencies, since they consume large amounts of power. To abolish them would allow portable devices to run on less power, enabling further miniaturisation.
Hackers would also be troubled by asynchronous systems, since 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. It will be difficult to persuade them to change their ways,’ he admits.

‘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.’

One of the barriers is that designing asynchronous systems requires the use of a new computer language, called Petri Net. At Newcastle, scientists are developing a design system which overcomes this problem by automatically translating Petri Net into orthodox computer 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 system developing, nicknamed GALS — Globally Asynchronous, Locally Synchronous.

It is no secret that electronics company Philips has produced an experimental pager built from asynchronous circuits and is developing other devices based on the same principle (see web links). It is also rumoured that a leading manufacturer is designing the next generation of computer processor with at least some asynchronous elements.

Just over a year ago, the New York Times reviewed the concept of asynchronous design in a business article and claimed that ‘most of the mainstream computer world is not convinced that a wholesale change of the way industry designs and manufacturers chips is practical’ (see web link). However, researchers have opened up new horizons over the past year and many experts believe that widespread introduction of this new technology is now only a matter of time.

Michael Warwicker | alphagalileo

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Optical fiber transmits one terabit per second – Novel modulation approach
16.09.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Researchers prototype system for reading closed books
09.09.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

Im Focus: New laser joining technologies at ‘K 2016’ trade fair

Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.

K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

New leukemia treatment offers hope

23.09.2016 | Health and Medicine

Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>