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The Battle Between ARM and Intel Gets Real

ARM servers and Intel smartphones are coming soon

4 min read

There are two giants in the computer processor industry. One is Intel, which builds most of the processors in today’s PCs and servers. The other is ARM Holdings, in Cambridge, England, which thanks to its vast ecosystem of partners has established near-complete dominance of the market for the core logic inside smartphones and tablets.


But the demand for energy-efficient chips is reshaping the industry. As the PC market flattens, Intel aims to capture a sizable chunk of the rapidly growing mobile market, which rose to nearly half a billion smartphones in 2011. And chip designers in ARM’s camp are eyeing a US $50 billion server market, fueled by the rise of social networking and cloud computing. 


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The X-Ray Tech That Reveals Chip Designs

No trade secret or hardware trojan can hide from ptychographic X-ray laminography

10 min read
Overlapping circles on a yellow background show a computer-generated surface textured in seemingly random patterns of copper extends into the distance at right.

X-ray–based techniques can reconstruct the interconnects in a chip layer by layer [above] and in 3D [left] without destroying it.

SLS-USC Chip-Scan team
Red

When you’re baking a cake, it’s hard to know when the inside is in the state you want it to be. The same is true—with much higher stakes—for microelectronic chips: How can engineers confirm that what’s inside has truly met the intent of the designers? How can a semiconductor design company tell whether its intellectual property was stolen? Much more worrisome, how can anyone be sure a kill switch or some other hardware trojan hasn’t been secretly inserted?

Today, that probing is done by grinding away each of the chip’s many layers and inspecting them using an electron microscope. It’s slow going and, of course, destructive, making this approach hardly satisfactory for anybody.

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