The acid test of any conference is how long after the keynotes, panels, and demos wrap up, the information and lessons learned linger in your mind. Like this fall's CDNLive series, ARM Techcon 2010 is passing the test of time given the raft of serious new technology announcements (the significantly enhanced Mali-T604 Graphics Processor technology (GPU) is but one example) in addition to the meaty content presented on and off the expo floor. Below are some of the highlights that have stuck with me despite the intervening distractions of the Thanksgiving holiday and general Q4 craziness.
This year's ARM Techcon had it all: surprising keynotes,
significant new announcements, and fun, product-centric booth demos
Gen2 of "Mali" GPUs: Upon seeing a Mali-driven display, any sub-Saharan imagery you may have is instantly displaced by world-class, CGI-driven amusement, as well as admiration for the underlying product strategy at work here (if you are already using ARM processors for your design, why wouldn't you tack on a Mali GPU and call it a day?) Bottom-line: if Mali works as well in real life as it did in the myriad of Techcon demos, it's going to be a real headache for ARM's competitors since now they have to compete for any graphics-oriented devices on two fronts. That said, the potential caveat/open question is whether Mali is easy to program or not (recall the rumored Achilles' heel of the otherwise amazing Cell processor is that it's really hard to program well).
Linaro momentum: Linaro is such an obviously winning idea that it's very surprising that this sort of initiative didn't coalesce years ago. (If the gentle reader has some scars to prove their veteran status of earlier attempts at Linaro-like initiatives, I'd be happy to do an anonymized interview ...) Whatever the history, ARM made it crystal clear that they are supporting Linaro any way they can. EDA blogger Daniel Nenni provides a great overview of the strategic, EDA360-oriented context of Linaro in his article, "Intel versus ARM (Linaro)"
The perilous state of Moore's Law: The keynote by IBM fab executive Gary Patton surprised me in several, discomfiting ways. My first shock was the news that they were just starting to deliver EUV lithography prototypes. This was surprising because back in a previous life (in the early 90s, when I used to track semiconductor manufacturing technology more closely) people were talking like EUV production deployment was just around the corner -- by 1995, certainly by 1997 at the outside. Hence, the news that EUV is not ready for prime time today -- in 2010 for godsake -- was jarring. (The speaker's assertion that process development typically takes "at least 10 years from lab to fab" was clearly a big understatement.)
Even more disconcerting was how casually the speaker noted that anything below the 14 nm node would probably require some sort of carbon nanotube or graphene-related technology. (Yikes!?!?!?) Paraphrasing Monty Python, he could have been more forceful in declaring "and soon, our whole industry will rely on something completely different." Granted, since its inception people have been predicting that the silicon-based Moore's Law would begin to flatten out "in the next 5 years." But this news of the need to jump to entirely new materials and process technologies has got to make you wonder. For more revelations from this talk, I recommend this short and sweet EE Times article entitled: "Five surprises at IBM's scaling keynote". Colleague Richard Goering also covered this talk in his Industry Insights column: "ARM Techcon: IBM Speaker Outlines Path to 22nm and Beyond"
MarCom tradecraft: The ARM processor-driven Lego Rubik's Cube solver and the "mbed Robot Racing" cars were two of the most compelling floor demos I've seen in a while that displayed the vendors' products in fun yet relevant ways. Big hat tip!
Finally, included below are some additional links to high-value ARM Techcon-related articles, blogs, and videos.
Until next year, may your power consumption be low and your throughput be high!
Joe Hupcey III
Twitter: @jhupcey, http://twitter.com/jhupcey
"My Top-12 videos filmed at the ARM Techcon 2010" by "Charbax" a/k/a Nicolas Charbonnier of ARMdevices.net
More from Richard Goering's "Industry Insights" column:
ARM Techcon Panel: Should End User Applications Drive System Development?
ARM-Cadence Fireside Chat: Hardware Differentiation in an Apps-Driven World
From Steve Leibson, the "EDA360 Insider":
Realizing the ARM Cortex-A15: What does the road to 2.5GHz look like?
ARM and Cadence: Playing with fire
ARM Cortex-A15 - does this processor IP core need a new category...Superstar IP?
The era of superintegration: The Marvell and ARM story - more than one billion chips served
Low Power-centric article by Dan Holden of Low Power Design: The ARM Ecosystem is the Real Story
Various ARM Techcon highlight videos from EE Times