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IBM aims to make chips more autonomous

But will the new eFuse technology have Big Blue's chip saying "I, processor"?

IBM on Friday revealed eFuse, a chip technology the company says will make for processors that are more autonomous.

eFuse adds the equivalent of numerous tiny electrical fuses to each chip that, when combined with special onboard software, can allow the chips to alter their own internal circuitry to circumvent problems or increase their efficiency, IBM representatives said.

The fuses, which IBM says are baked into the chips at no additional cost, serve to control individual circuits' speeds and thus can manage their performance and power consumption. They can also help repair certain flaws, or work around them. When a circuit is running too fast or too slow, for example, the fuse can alter its voltage and speed the circuit up or slow it down to meet with performance needs.

Meanwhile, if a problem occurs in a section of a chip, such as one portion of its memory, that section can be shut down without affecting the rest of the chip. At the same time, eFuse can also be used to reprogram a chip if its role changes and a customer requires that it use less power or deliver greater performance, the company said.

The eFuse technology is part of a broader development strategy, announced last March, which IBM intends to use to boost the performance of its Power Architecture processors by encouraging more third parties to contribute to its design and also to create hardware and software that works with it.

IBM aims to increase the performance of Power chips by adding new features such as eFuse and also by working to improve the software and the systems those chips go into. The company sees all three things as necessities to increase performance--its chip designers say that new ways of heightening performance are required because traditional methods, such as boosting clock speeds, have become more difficult to achieve. Thus the company is relying on new strategies, including eFuse, as well as practices such as combining two processor cores into a single chip and garnering morer input from third-party hardware and software makers.

To that end, IBM is also making the Power Architecture more open by making information about it more readily available. In particular, the company wants to make it easier to design hardware and software for Power. Big Blue has since begun an effort to foster more third-party hardware and software development for its chips by starting up an online community dedicated to the Power Architecture.

eFuse is already present in many of IBM's chips, the company said. The technology is part of the 90-nanometer chip-manufacturing process, which its East Fishkill, N.Y., plant uses to produce chips such as the Power5. eFuse is also in use in IBM's Burlington, Vt., plant, which turns out communications chips, which are used for devices such as cell phones, using silicon germanium technology.

Thus eFuse is present in chips such as IBM's Power5 for servers and is also being built into IBM communications chips, as well as chips the company manufactures for third parties.