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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

2 - Impact of technology



Technology has always played the most important role in the evolution of computer architecture over time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Technological evolution has fostered rapid innovations in chip architecture. We give three examples motivated by performance, power, and reliability. In the past, architectural designs were dictated by performance/cost tradeoffs. Several well-known architectural discoveries resulted from the uneven progress of different technological parameters. For instance, caches were invented during the era when processor speed grew much faster than main memory speed. Recently, power has become a primary design constraint. Since the invention of the microprocessor, the amount of chip realestate has soared relentlessly, enabling an exponential rise of clock frequencies and ever more complex hardware designs. However, as the supply voltage approached its lower limit and power consumption became a primary concern, chip architecture shifted from high-frequency uniprocessor designs to chip multiprocessor architectures in order to contain power growth. This shift from uniprocessor to multiprocessor microarchitectures is a disrupting event caused by the evolution of technology. Finally, for decades processor reliability was a concern primarily for high-end server systems. As transistor feature sizes have shrunk over time they have become more susceptible to transient faults. Hence radiation-hardened architectures have been developed to protect computer systems from single-event upsets causing soft errors.

These examples of the impact of technology on computer design demonstrate that it is critical for a reader of this book to understand the basic technological parameters and features, and their scaling with each process generation.