CPU design focuses on these areas:
CPUs designed for high performance markets might require custom designs for each of these items to achieve frequency, power-dissipation, and chip-area goals.
CPUs designed for lower performance markets might lessen the implementation burden by:
Common logic styles used in CPU design include:
Device types used to implement the logic include:
A CPU design project generally has these major tasks:
As with most complex electronic designs, the logic verification effort (proving that the design does not have bugs) now dominates the project schedule of a CPU.
The first CPUs were designed to do mathematical calculations faster and more reliably than human computers.
Each successive generation of CPU might be designed to achieve some of these goals:
Re-designing a CPU core to a smaller die-area helps achieve several of these goals.
Because there are too many programs to test a CPU's speed on all of them, benchmarks were developed. The most famous benchmarks are the SPECint and SPECfp benchmarks developed by Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation and the ConsumerMark benchmark developed by the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium EEMBC.
Some important measurements include:
Some of these measures conflict. In particular, many design techniques that make CPU run faster make the "performance per watt", "performance per dollar", and "deterministic response" much worse, and vice versa.
There are several different markets in which CPUs are used. Since each of these markets differ in their requirements for CPUs, the devices designed for one market are in most cases inappropriate for the other markets.
The vast majority of revenues generated from CPU sales is for general purpose computing. That is, desktop, laptop and server computers commonly used in businesses and homes. In this market, the Intel IA-32 architecture dominates, with its rivals PowerPC and SPARC maintaining much smaller customer bases. Yearly, hundreds of millions of IA-32 architecture CPUs are used by this market.
Since these devices are used to run countless different types of programs, these CPU designs are not specifically targeted at one type of application or one function. The demands of being able to run a wide range of programs efficiently has made these CPU designs among the more advanced technically, along with some disadvantages of being relatively costly, and having high power consumption.
Developing new, high-end CPUs is a very costly proposition. Both the logical complexity (needing very large logic design and logic verification teams and simulation farms with perhaps thousands of computers) and the high operating frequencies (needing large circuit design teams and access to the state-of-the-art fabrication process) account for the high cost of design for this type of chip. The design cost of a high-end CPU will be on the order of US $100 million. Since the design of such high-end chips nominally takes about five years to complete, to stay competitive a company has to fund at least two of these large design teams to release products at the rate of 2.5 years per product generation.
As an example, the typical loaded cost for one computer engineer is often quoted to be $250,000 US dollars/year. This includes salary, benefits, CAD tools, computers, office space rent, etc. Assuming that 100 engineers are needed to design a CPU and the project takes 4 years.
Total cost = $250,000/engineer-man_year X 100 engineers X 4 years = $100,000,000 US dollars.
The above amount is just an example. The design teams for modern day general purpose CPUs have several hundred team members.
Only the personal computer mass market (with production rates in the hundreds of millions, producing billions of dollars in revenue) can support such a large design and implementation teams. As of 2004, only four companies are actively designing and fabricating state of the art general purpose computing CPU chips: Intel, AMD, IBM and Fujitsu. Motorola has spun off its semiconductor division as Freescale as that division was dragging down profit margins for the rest of the company. Texas Instruments, TSMC and Toshiba are a few examples of a companies doing manufacturing for another company's CPU chip design.
A much smaller niche market (in revenue and units shipped) is scientific computing, used in government research labs and universities. Previously much CPU design was done for this market, but the cost-effectiveness of using mass markets CPUs has curtailed almost all specialized designs for this market. The main remaining area of active hardware design and research for scientific computing is for high-speed system interconnects.
As measured by units shipped, most CPUs are embedded in other machinery, such as telephones, clocks, appliances, vehicles, and infrastructure. Embedded processors sell in the volume of many billions of units per year, however, mostly at much lower price points than that of the general purpose processors.
These single-function devices differ from the more familiar general-purpose CPUs in several ways:
For embedded systems, the highest performance levels are often not needed or desired due to the power consumption requirements. This allows for the use of processors which can be totally implemented by logic synthesis techniques. These synthesized processors can be implemented in a much shorter amount of time, giving quicker time-to-market.
A variety of _looking_forward have been proposed, including reconfigurable logic, clockless CPUs, and optical computing.