Reprogrammable chips are nothing new. FPGAs, or field-programmable gate arrays, have been used in the computer industry for decades. The chips are designed to offer users the ability to alter the chip’s fundamental functionality after it leaves the factory – in “the field”, as it were.
These chips have a number of advantages – core operations can be tweaked over time to fine-tune results. They also allow for a certain degree of variability in case some unknown situation crops up. It’s not all roses, however, as the chips are expensive to produce, taking up larger amounts of board space and using more expensive silicon than their discrete alternatives. It’s also generally accepted that chips like FPGAs require a bit more power than others might, limiting their use in low-end or power-sparse situations.
A new startup known as Tabula is looking to change that. With the oddly named “Spacetime” architecture, the company claims that they can produce a new kind of reprogrammable microchip. This one works like a traditional FPGA, but reduces the substantial amounts of redundancy these chips typically have. With Tabula’s take on the device, the chip is mapped to three dimensions in virtual space. After every clock cycle, the chip can change its layout – currently, eight different path sets are supported, and the chip can switch between them up to 1.6 billion times per second.
Tabula is looking to target not just high-priced, low yield markets with these chips, but also at convincing companies that the Tabula chips could give their products a competitve advantage in the marketplace. The example given is of a consumer electronic manufacturer who sees a competitor introduce an attractive new feature into their product. Instead of generating an entire new product cycle, the manufacturer might instead just push a few firmware updates down the stream and instantly grant its customers access to that same functionality.
In addition to being on the order of five times cheaper to produce, the company estimates that their solution might take as little as one-third of the physical space that traditional reprogrammable chips do, all while offering somewhere around four times the performance. There’s still no word as to when users might see Tabula’s superchips in their own products.