As chips continue to get smaller, the technological possibilities just get larger. One of the trade-offs of miniaturization, however, is that smaller things are also often more fragile and less dependable. Anticipating a point at which chips will become too tiny to maintain their current level of resilience, a team of four companies and two universities in The Netherlands, Germany, and Finland have created what they say could be the solution – a chip that monitors its own performance, and redirects tasks as needed.
"Because of the rapidly growing transistor density on chips, it has become a real challenge to ensure high system dependability," said Hans Kerkhoff of The Netherlands' University of Twente, and part of the CRISP (Cutting-edge Reconfigurable ICs for Stream Processing) consortium. "The solution is not to make non-degradable chips, it's to make architectures that can degrade while they keep functioning, which we call graceful degradation."
In order to make that graceful degradation possible, the CRISP chip incorporates multiple cores. Different tasks are assigned to different cores, by a built-in resource manager. The connections of those cores are continuously tested, and when a fault is detected, the task assigned to that core is simply reallocated to another one.
Although the chip itself isn't actually any stronger, it can function at full capacity for a longer period of time.
CRISP's self-testing, self-repairing chip was recently demonstrated at the DATE2011 conference in Grenoble, France.