Our current HPC ecosystem relies upon Commercial off-the-Shelf (COTS) building blocks to enable cost-effective design by sharing costs across a larger ecosystem. Modern HPC nodes use commodity chipsets and processor chips integrated together on custom motherboards. We are embarking upon a new era for commodity HPC where the chip acts as the “silicon motherboard” that interconnects commodity Intellectual Property (IP) circuit building blocks to create a complete integrated System-on-a-Chip (SoC). This approach is still very much COTS, but the commodities are licensable IP for pre-verified circuit designs (the lego-blocks for SoC designs) rather than the chips. It achieves cost-competitiveness because the dominant cost of designing a chip is the cost of verifying the circuit building blocks. The cost benefits derive from the ability to leverage a commodity ecosystem of embedded IP logic components where the non-recurring expense (NRE) cost of designing and verifying a new processor or memory controller design (an IP building block) can be amortized by licensing the technology to myriad embedded applications. The market for licensed circuit IP in the embedded space is much larger marketplace (both in volume and total revenue) than for server chips and the market segment for SoC building blocks is growing at a far faster pace than the current server chip market. HPC system designers should leverage this new avenue for leveraging the cost-advantages of COTS technology.
Traditionally SoC design methods have focused on low-power consumer electronics or high performance embedded applications. But now SoC design methods are moving into high-end computing due to the emergence of embedded IP offering capable double-precision floating point, 64-bit address capability, and options for high performance I/O and memory interfaces. The SoC approach enables HPC chip designers to include features they need, and exclude features that are not required in a manner that is not feasible with today’s commodity board-level computing system design. System on Chip (SoC) integration is able to further reduce power, increase integration density, and improve reliability. It also enables designers to minimize off-chip I/O by integrating peripheral functions, such as network interfaces and memory controllers by integrating the components onto a single chip. Furthermore, the embedded market has developed extraordinarily capable tools for rapidly prototyping, simulating, and synthesizing full SoC designs, with a much faster turn-around than we have come accustomed to for commodity server chip designs (many designs targeted at an 18 month design cycle for the hyper-competitive consumer market). By leveraging the enormous commodity IP market for design tools, processors, memory controllers, and I/O circuit designs, a chip designer can focus their effort and NRE costs on engineering handful of essential features that are not covered by the commodity ecosystem.