10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

By Doug Black

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been instrumental to AMD’s datacenter market resurgence. Nanometer cachet is incalculable: on it, companies, careers and fortunes are made and lost.

But that cachet is coming into question. As with the Linpack benchmark for ranking HPC system performance, a growing chorus of voices is calling for other ways to assess and characterize chips.

Before further discussion, let’s define our terms. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, also expressed as 0.000000001 or 10-9 meters (for perspective, hair grows at roughly 1 nm per second**). In chip design, “nm” refers to the length of a transistor gate – the smaller the gate the more processing power that can be packed into a given space.

Some chip technologists argue that the nanometer is too narrow a measure of chip advancement. Writing in IEEE last month, nine computer scientists from MIT, Stanford, University of California/Berkeley and Taiwan-based chip manufacturer TSMC have put forward a new “density metric” designed to be a more holistic gauge. The nanometer metric “is all but obsolete today,” they said, for not simultaneously accounting for logic, memory and packaging/integration technologies. What’s needed is to capture a broader set of system-level performance indicators, connecting “the device technology advances to system-level benefits in a comprehensive fashion while acknowledging the synergy between various components.”

Available at https://purl.stanford.edu/jj585np1768, the data “suggest that a balanced growth between logic, memory and connectivity has been an implicit guide for computing system optimization,” according to the authors.

Classifying chips by transistor gate length – the “node number” – has been around since the 1960s. But over the past decade, “driven by competitive marketing,” the nanometer metric has been pushed, pulled and distorted in several ways, the authors stated. For one, the node number “has become decoupled from, and can be several times smaller than, the actual minimum gate length.” For another, different semiconductor manufacturers brand similar logic technologies with “different node labels, thus creating further confusion.”

They also point out that while 5nm chips are slated to go into production next year, the next-generation node will be 3nm, so “we will soon run out of nanometers for naming future generations of technologies.” More importantly, 3nm is roughly the size of about 12 atoms, so small it could create doubts that semiconductor technology advancement is nearing physical limits.

“Yet, it is a foregone conclusion that the semiconductor industry will continue to make progress,” the authors asserted, “because there are still many ways to advance semiconductor technology beyond 2-D miniaturization and also because societal demand for more capable electronic systems is insatiable.”

In place of the nm node number, the authors’ proposed “LMC density metric” would be a three-part number reflecting the relationship between density and “benefits for more advanced computing systems — the primary driver for progress in semiconductor technology.”

The three numbers:

  • DL: density of logic transistors in #/mm2
  • DM: bit density of main memory (currently the off-chip DRAM density in #/mm2)
  • DC: density of connections between the main memory and logic (in #/mm2)

The authors said that, based on design specifics, today’s leading edge technologies can be characterized by [38M, 383M, 12K].

“These three components of the system metric contribute to the overall speed and energy efficiency of computing systems,” the authors said. “This balance is implicit in computer architectures and allows the improvement of overall system performance in an optimal fashion.” They also noted that historical data show a “correlated growth” in logic, memory and connectivity, suggesting “a balanced increase of DL, DM, and DC for the decades to come.”

The metric places particular focus on the integrations of logic, memory and connectivity, the authors said. “In addition to being consistent with historical trends and our intuition about computing systems, the LMC density metric is applicable and extensible to future logic, memory, and packaging/integration technologies.”

Acknowledging that chip vendors may “continue to use their preferred labels to market their technologies,” the authors said the LMC density metric could foster “clear communications” by serving “as a common language to gauge technology advances among semiconductor manufacturers.”

Above all, the authors said, the LMC density metric “takes the semiconductor industry out of the quandary of using the vanishing nanometer as a label to describe advancements in semiconductor technology that will remain very important to society for a very long time to come.”

*  Roughly corresponding to Intel’s (delayed) 10nm process node

**  See comments from Phil Moriarty, professor of physics, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 1675260034

Solving Heterogeneous Programming Challenges with SYCL

December 8, 2021

In the first of a series of guest posts on heterogenous computing, James Reinders, who returned to Intel last year after a short "retirement," considers how SYCL will contribute to a heterogeneous future for C++. Reinde Read more…

Quantinuum Debuts Quantum-based Cryptographic Key Service – Is this Quantum Advantage?

December 7, 2021

Quantinuum – the newly-named company resulting from the merger of Honeywell’s quantum computing division and UK-based Cambridge Quantum – today launched Quantum Origin, a service to deliver “completely unpredicta Read more…

SC21 Was Unlike Any Other — Was That a Good Thing?

December 3, 2021

For a long time, the promised in-person SC21 seemed like an impossible fever dream, the assurances of a prominent physical component persisting across years of canceled conferences, including two virtual ISCs and the virtual SC20. With the advent of the Delta variant, Covid surges in St. Louis and contention over vaccine requirements... Read more…

The Green500’s Crystal Anniversary Sees MN-3 Crystallize Its Winning Streak

December 2, 2021

“This is the 30th Green500,” said Wu Feng, custodian of the Green500 list, at the list’s SC21 birds-of-a-feather session. “You could say 15 years of Green500, which makes it, I guess, the crystal anniversary.” Indeed, HPCwire marked the 15th anniversary of the Green500 – which ranks supercomputers by flops-per-watt, rather than just by flops – earlier this year with... Read more…

AWS Arm-based Graviton3 Instances Now in Preview

December 1, 2021

Three years after unveiling the first generation of its AWS Graviton chip-powered instances in 2018, Amazon Web Services announced that the third generation of the processors – the AWS Graviton3 – will power all-new Amazon Elastic Compute 2 (EC2) C7g instances that are now available in preview. Debuting at the AWS re:Invent 2021... Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Introducing AWS HPC Connector for NICE EnginFrame

HPC customers regularly tell us about their excitement when they’re starting to use the cloud for the first time. In conversations, we always want to dig a bit deeper to find out how we can improve those initial experiences and deliver on the potential they see. Read more…

Nvidia Dominates Latest MLPerf Results but Competitors Start Speaking Up

December 1, 2021

MLCommons today released its fifth round of MLPerf training benchmark results with Nvidia GPUs again dominating. That said, a few other AI accelerator companies participated and, one of them, Graphcore, even held a separ Read more…

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 1675260034

Solving Heterogeneous Programming Challenges with SYCL

December 8, 2021

In the first of a series of guest posts on heterogenous computing, James Reinders, who returned to Intel last year after a short "retirement," considers how SYC Read more…

Quantinuum Debuts Quantum-based Cryptographic Key Service – Is this Quantum Advantage?

December 7, 2021

Quantinuum – the newly-named company resulting from the merger of Honeywell’s quantum computing division and UK-based Cambridge Quantum – today launched Q Read more…

SC21 Was Unlike Any Other — Was That a Good Thing?

December 3, 2021

For a long time, the promised in-person SC21 seemed like an impossible fever dream, the assurances of a prominent physical component persisting across years of canceled conferences, including two virtual ISCs and the virtual SC20. With the advent of the Delta variant, Covid surges in St. Louis and contention over vaccine requirements... Read more…

The Green500’s Crystal Anniversary Sees MN-3 Crystallize Its Winning Streak

December 2, 2021

“This is the 30th Green500,” said Wu Feng, custodian of the Green500 list, at the list’s SC21 birds-of-a-feather session. “You could say 15 years of Green500, which makes it, I guess, the crystal anniversary.” Indeed, HPCwire marked the 15th anniversary of the Green500 – which ranks supercomputers by flops-per-watt, rather than just by flops – earlier this year with... Read more…

Nvidia Dominates Latest MLPerf Results but Competitors Start Speaking Up

December 1, 2021

MLCommons today released its fifth round of MLPerf training benchmark results with Nvidia GPUs again dominating. That said, a few other AI accelerator companies Read more…

At SC21, Experts Ask: Can Fast HPC Be Green?

November 30, 2021

HPC is entering a new era: exascale is (somewhat) officially here, but Moore’s law is ending. Power consumption and other sustainability concerns loom over the enormous systems and chips of this new epoch, for both cost and compliance reasons. Reconciling the need to continue the supercomputer scale-up while reducing HPC’s environmental impacts... Read more…

Raja Koduri and Satoshi Matsuoka Discuss the Future of HPC at SC21

November 29, 2021

HPCwire's Managing Editor sits down with Intel's Raja Koduri and Riken's Satoshi Matsuoka in St. Louis for an off-the-cuff conversation about their SC21 experience, what comes after exascale and why they are collaborating. Koduri, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's accelerated computing systems and graphics (AXG) group, leads the team... Read more…

Jack Dongarra on SC21, the Top500 and His Retirement Plans

November 29, 2021

HPCwire's Managing Editor sits down with Jack Dongarra, Top500 co-founder and Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee, during SC21 in St. Louis to discuss the 2021 Top500 list, the outlook for global exascale computing, and what exactly is going on in that Viking helmet photo. Read more…

IonQ Is First Quantum Startup to Go Public; Will It be First to Deliver Profits?

November 3, 2021

On October 1 of this year, IonQ became the first pure-play quantum computing start-up to go public. At this writing, the stock (NYSE: IONQ) was around $15 and its market capitalization was roughly $2.89 billion. Co-founder and chief scientist Chris Monroe says it was fun to have a few of the company’s roughly 100 employees travel to New York to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock... Read more…

Enter Dojo: Tesla Reveals Design for Modular Supercomputer & D1 Chip

August 20, 2021

Two months ago, Tesla revealed a massive GPU cluster that it said was “roughly the number five supercomputer in the world,” and which was just a precursor to Tesla’s real supercomputing moonshot: the long-rumored, little-detailed Dojo system. Read more…

Esperanto, Silicon in Hand, Champions the Efficiency of Its 1,092-Core RISC-V Chip

August 27, 2021

Esperanto Technologies made waves last December when it announced ET-SoC-1, a new RISC-V-based chip aimed at machine learning that packed nearly 1,100 cores onto a package small enough to fit six times over on a single PCIe card. Now, Esperanto is back, silicon in-hand and taking aim... Read more…

US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership... Read more…

AMD Launches Milan-X CPU with 3D V-Cache and Multichip Instinct MI200 GPU

November 8, 2021

At a virtual event this morning, AMD CEO Lisa Su unveiled the company’s latest and much-anticipated server products: the new Milan-X CPU, which leverages AMD’s new 3D V-Cache technology; and its new Instinct MI200 GPU, which provides up to 220 compute units across two Infinity Fabric-connected dies, delivering an astounding 47.9 peak double-precision teraflops. “We're in a high-performance computing megacycle, driven by the growing need to deploy additional compute performance... Read more…

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Killer Instinct: AMD’s Multi-Chip MI200 GPU Readies for a Major Global Debut

October 21, 2021

AMD’s next-generation supercomputer GPU is on its way – and by all appearances, it’s about to make a name for itself. The AMD Radeon Instinct MI200 GPU (a successor to the MI100) will, over the next year, begin to power three massive systems on three continents: the United States’ exascale Frontier system; the European Union’s pre-exascale LUMI system; and Australia’s petascale Setonix system. Read more…

Hot Chips: Here Come the DPUs and IPUs from Arm, Nvidia and Intel

August 25, 2021

The emergence of data processing units (DPU) and infrastructure processing units (IPU) as potentially important pieces in cloud and datacenter architectures was Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

D-Wave Embraces Gate-Based Quantum Computing; Charts Path Forward

October 21, 2021

Earlier this month D-Wave Systems, the quantum computing pioneer that has long championed quantum annealing-based quantum computing (and sometimes taken heat fo Read more…

HPE Wins $2B GreenLake HPC-as-a-Service Deal with NSA

September 1, 2021

In the heated, oft-contentious, government IT space, HPE has won a massive $2 billion contract to provide HPC and AI services to the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). Following on the heels of the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI contract (reissued as JWCC) and a $10 billion... Read more…

The Latest MLPerf Inference Results: Nvidia GPUs Hold Sway but Here Come CPUs and Intel

September 22, 2021

The latest round of MLPerf inference benchmark (v 1.1) results was released today and Nvidia again dominated, sweeping the top spots in the closed (apples-to-ap Read more…

Three Chinese Exascale Systems Detailed at SC21: Two Operational and One Delayed

November 24, 2021

Details about two previously rumored Chinese exascale systems came to light during last week’s SC21 proceedings. Asked about these systems during the Top500 media briefing on Monday, Nov. 15, list author and co-founder Jack Dongarra indicated he was aware of some very impressive results, but withheld comment when asked directly if he had... Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer... Read more…

2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits. The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually... Read more…

Quantum Computer Market Headed to $830M in 2024

September 13, 2021

What is one to make of the quantum computing market? Energized (lots of funding) but still chaotic and advancing in unpredictable ways (e.g. competing qubit tec Read more…

IBM Introduces its First Power10-based Server, the Power E1080; Targets Hybrid Cloud

September 8, 2021

IBM today introduced the Power E1080 server, its first system powered by a Power10 IBM microprocessor. The new system reinforces IBM’s emphasis on hybrid cloud markets and the new chip beefs up its inference capabilities. IBM – like other CPU makers – is hoping to make inferencing a core capability... Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire