The general-purpose computer has remained the dominant computing architecture for the last 50 years, driven largely by the relentless pace of Moore’s Law. As this trajectory shows signs of slowing, however, it has become increasingly more challenging to achieve performance gains from generalized hardware, setting the stage for a resurgence in specialized architectures. Today’s specialized, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) — hardware customized for a specific application — offer limited flexibility and are costly to design, fabricate, and program.
The Domain-Specific System on Chip (DSSoC) program seeks to prove that there need not be a continued tradeoff between efficiency, like that found in ASICs, and flexibility, the hallmark of general-purpose processors. The goal of DSSoC is to develop a heterogeneous system-on-chip (SoC) comprised of many cores that mix general purpose processors, special purpose processors, hardware accelerators, memory, and input/output (I/O) devices to significantly improve performance of applications within a domain. A domain is larger than any one application, where one processor can effectively address problems more efficiently than a general purpose processor but without the challenge, time, and cost of building a special-purpose system like an ASIC. DSSoC is exploring architectures that improve the efficiency of computing through specialized processing while maintaining programmability.
To better support the large and growing range of applications needed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to maintain its technological advantage the DSSoC program will seek to produce concepts that provide improved computing efficiency for embedded processing needs while making these systems more programmable. To do this, DSSoC will address critical issues in today’s development cycle that force low-level engineering to port applications onto the specifics of the underlying processors. Specifically, the DSSoC program will seek to develop software stacks that enable better hardware-software co-design by providing vertical integration of tools from the hardware up to the development environment. A second key impact of DSSoC will be the development of intelligent scheduling of applications and data on a heterogeneous processor to make better use of the heterogeneity and parallelism of these systems, whereas today, programming applications for complex systems is a time-consuming, hand-tuned exercise.
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