The GreenDroid mobile application processor is a 45-nm multicore research prototype that targets the Android mobile-phone software stack and can execute general-purpose mobile programs with 11 times less energy than today’s most energy-efficient designs, at similar or better performance levels. It does this through the use of a hundred or so automatically generated, highly specialized, energy-reducing cores, called conservation cores. This research attacks a key technological problem for microprocessor architects, which is called the utilization wall. The utilization wall says that, with each process generation, the percentage of transistors that a chip design can switch at full frequency drops exponentially because of power constraints. A direct consequence of this is dark silicon—large swaths of a chip’s silicon area that must remain mostly passive to stay within the chip’s power budget. Currently, only about 1 percent of a modest-sized 32-nm mobile chip can switch at full frequency within a 3-W power budget. With each process generation, dark silicon gets exponentially cheaper, whereas the power budget is becoming exponentially more valuable. Our research leverages two key insights. First, it makes sense to find architectural techniques that trade this cheap resource, dark silicon, for the more valuable resource, energy efficiency. Second, specialized logic can attain 10 to 1,000 better energy efficiency over general-purpose processors. The approach is to fill a chip’s dark silicon area with specialized cores to save energy on common applications. These cores are automatically generated from the code base that the processor is intended to run—that is, the Android mobile-phone software stack. The cores feature a focused reconfigurability so that they can remain useful even as the code they target evolves.
Mobile devices have recently emerged as the most exciting and fast-changing segment of computing platforms. A typical high-end smartphone or tablet contains panoply of processors, including a mobile application processor for running the Android or iPhone software environments and user applications and games, a Graphics processor for rendering on the user’s screen, and a cellular baseband processor for communicating with the cellular networks. In addition to these flexible processors, there are more specialized circuits that implement Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS connectivity as well as accelerator circuits for playing and recording video and sound. As a larger percentage of cellular network traffic becomes data rather than voice, the capabilities of the mobile application processor that generates this data have become exponentially more important. In recent years, we have seen a corresponding exponential improvement in the capabilities of mobile application processors, so these processors are now approaching similar levels of sophistication to those in desktop machines. In fact, this process parallels similar progress that happened when desktop processors mirrored the development of earlier mainframe computers. As Moore’s Law and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) scaling provide improving energy efficiencies and transistor counts, cheaper processors eventually are able to incorporate the features from their older relatives; first, pipelined execution, then superscalar execution, then out-of-order execution, and finally, multicore. Today, because sales quantities are higher, processor features tend to move from desktop processor designs to mainframe designs rather than in the opposite direction. As mobile application processor sales surpass those of desktops, it is likely that smartphone processors will become the new nexus of advancement in processor design. The research at the University of California (UC) San Diego focuses on understanding the technological forces that will shape the development of these future processors and proposing architectural approaches that match these forces. To reduce these proposals to practice, this paper is designing and implementing a novel mobile application processor called GreenDroid. GreenDroid will serve as a prototype for mobile application processors in the next five to ten years. In particular, GreenDroid attacks one of the most important realities of Moore’s Law as it continues from today into the future, which we refer to as the utilization wall.
A GreenDroid processor combines general-purpose processors with application-specific coprocessors that are very energy efficient. These conservation cores, or c-cores, execute most of an application’s code and will account for well over 90 percent of execution time. GreenDroid is a heterogeneous tiled architecture. It contains an energy-efficient 32-bit 7-stage inorder pipeline that runs at 1.5 GHz in a 45 nm process technology. It includes a single precision floating point unit (FPU), multiplier, 16- Kbyte I-cache, translation look aside buffer (TLB), and 32-kbyte banked L1 data cache. The architecture also includes a mesh-based on-chip network (OCN). The OCN carries memory traffic and supports fast synchronization primitives, similar to the raw scalable tiled architecture. The tiles caches are kept coherent through a simple cache coherence scheme that allows the level 1 (L1) caches of inactive tiles to be collectively used as a level 2 (L2) cache. Unlike Raw, however, GreenDroid tiles are not uniform. Each of them contains a unique collection of 8–15 c-cores. The c-cores communicate with the general-purpose processor via an L1 data cache and specialized register-mapped interface Together, these two interfaces support argument passing and context switches for the c-cores. The register-mapped interface also supports a specialized form of reconfiguration called patching that allows c-cores to adapt to small changes in application code.
Greendroid is a novel mobile application processor. It will serve as a prototype for mobile application processors in the next five to ten years. It attacks one of the most important realities of Moore’s law which is the utilization wall, which will exponentially worsen the problem of dark silicon. The GreenDroid prototype shows the wide spread application of c-cores to android. C-core reduces energy consumption for key regions. C-core make use of selective direction path & reduce energy consumption by 91%.
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