‘We should stop designing perfect circuits’

Posted on October 3, 2013
'We should stop designing perfect circuits'

Are integrated circuits “too good” for current technological applications? Christian Enz, the new Director of the Institute of Microengineering, backs the idea that perfection is overrated.

Christian Enz, the head of the Integrated Circuits Laboratory (ICLAB), explains why we should build our future devices with unreliable circuits, and adopt the “good enough engineering” trend. Non-fully reliable circuits can lead to a substantial reduction of energy consumption. Even better, they will allow scientists to stay in the miniaturization race, which has been compromised of late. The size of transistors that constitute circuits cannot be reduced boundlessly. As they get smaller and smaller, they produce more and more mistakes. Some hardware must therefore be added and additional margins taken, which annuls the benefits of miniaturization, and increases energy consumption. Imperfect circuits require less silicon area, and are therefore less energy consuming and less expensive. But Industry remains to be convinced, where giving up perfection is concerned.

How is it that sloppy chips don’t adversely affect the performance of the device they’re in?

Circuits are generally resilient to a certain statistically small proportion of errors, with only a negligible impact on the final output. Of course, this isn’t true for all applications, but you can take a “good enough” approach for “perceptual” uses like audio and video playback. For instance, the screen on a smartphone: here, any impact on image quality will be too small to be perceived. Human sight is an extremely robust system, one that automatically corrects any small errors.

Read more at: Phys.org