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'Pruned' Microchips Twice As Fast and Efficient

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the use-the-tiny-tin-snips dept.

Power 127

Zothecula writes "If you had to use a commuting bicycle in a race, you would probably set about removing the kickstand, fenders, racks and lights to make the thing as fast and efficient as possible. When engineers at Houston's Rice University are developing small, fast, energy-efficient chips for use in devices like hearing aids, it turns out they do pretty much the same thing. The removal of portions of circuits that aren't essential to the task at hand is known as 'probabilistic pruning,' and it results in chips that are twice as fast, use half the power, and are half the size of conventional chips."

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Hm (4, Insightful)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542490)

It's news that removing unnecessary parts of a circuit make it more efficient? Really?

Re:Hm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542528)

Yawn. Exactly what I was thinking. Just look at NX chips.

Re:Hm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542546)

I believe in practice a lot of the work is thinning tracks and the distance between them, increasing the chance of unwanted capacitance but decreasing the overall chip size and therefore the problem of heat dissipation.

Re:Hm (5, Insightful)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542548)

I think the news is they developed a heuristic of least used parts of a chip, slapped on a tiny emulator so functions don't fail, and call it a day.

For example, Chip $foo has functions A B C D E & F. E is used on average once every gigaflop, so using the CPU/other functions, they implement E and cut out all parts for E.

Re:Hm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542764)

It's called optimising and has been going on for decades (AFAIK for emulation of operations see x86 processors which emulate cisc instructions). Its just not worth the effort in most cases since producing optimised chips costs a lot more than simply using mass produced generic chips.

Re:Hm (2)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543396)

Hell, engineers have been doing that for at least 50 years. Big names are IBM with the S/360, DEC with the PDP-11 and VAX and Intel with the 8086

It was the only way they could make CISC w/o chips the size of Andre The Giant's thumb. Micro-ops made them obsolete in X86 CPUs in the late 1990s.

Re:Hm (5, Funny)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542784)

For example, Chip $foo has functions A B C D E & F. E is used on average once every gigaflop, so using the CPU/other functions, they implement E and cut out all parts for E.

The best part is that this can be applied iteratively. Once E is eliminated there's a new "least used" function which can be eliminated. By extension, any CPU can ultimately be pruned down to a single NOP instruction, with the entire rest of the instruction set emulated in software.

Re:Hm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542804)

At least you could get down to the case of an infinite line of rocks, with "read rock", "write rock", "move left", and "move right" instructions. Everything else is just icing on top of that.

Re:Hm (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542864)

"By extension, any CPU can ultimately be pruned down to a single NOP instruction, with the entire rest of the instruction set emulated in software."

Replace the CPU with a solar cell.

Not only can it perform NOPs at the same rate as any pruned CPU, but it also runs at a negative current draw when you open the lid (or if you have enough illuminated 'bling' fans installed).

Re:Hm (5, Interesting)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543074)

Already been done, it's called one instruction set computing [wikipedia.org] , and it makes brainfuck look like python in comparison.

Re:Hm (1)

blacklint (985235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543148)

I know you were going for a joke, but that actually does work with "Subtract and branch if less than or equal to zero" and a couple other instructions. Obviously not practical, but see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_instruction_set_computer [wikipedia.org]

Re:Hm (1)

martyb (196687) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544120)

For example, Chip $foo has functions A B C D E & F. E is used on average once every gigaflop, so using the CPU/other functions, they implement E and cut out all parts for E.

The best part is that this can be applied iteratively. Once E is eliminated there's a new "least used" function which can be eliminated. By extension, any CPU can ultimately be pruned down to a single NOP instruction, with the entire rest of the instruction set emulated in software.

Not quite to THAT degree, but Mark Twain suggested something along those lines: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/humor/marktwain.cfm [plainlanguage.gov] I'll leave it to the reader to provide a coding sample to implement this.

Re:Hm (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544510)

I know a few people on Facebook that have in fact started to adopt Twain's logical spelling system. Lolcats appear to be fans too.

RISC redeux (1)

PatentMagus (1083289) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544506)

Perhaps the news is that enough time has passed since RISC that the notion is new again. Except with one sad and sorry exception. The RISC guys are way better engineers because they calculate various effects of their instruction sets and other optimizations BEFORE committing to silicon. The guys in TFA are relative chimps because they're just pruning, testing, and bandaging something they don't seem to fully understand.

An analogy comes to mind: some kids buy a car and pull off pieces until it doesn't work right. Once it breaks, they add duct tape until the car runs again. The stripped down car gets better mileage and can go faster. Somewhere along the way, some journalist looks at the thing and gets excited by the brand new car the kids built. The journalist trumpets to the sky about the wonderful new car and automotive geniuses he's discovered. The kids start a car company, dumb people invest. Meanwhile, automotive engineers furrow their brows, shake their heads, and go back to work.

Re:RISC redeux (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544598)

Well RISC is still around in the form of ARM cpus...

Re:RISC redeux (1)

PatentMagus (1083289) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544674)

True-dat. I tried to edit all the past tense references away but failed. Not is the "acorn risc machine" still kicking (and actually doing well), but MIPS got spun back out of SGI.

Re:RISC redeux (1)

Galactic Dominator (944134) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544628)

I'd rather be a duct tape engineer than the guy complaining about them.

Re:Hm (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 3 years ago | (#35545100)

This seems relevant to Sony, who got bashed for removing the Emotion Engine [wikipedia.org] . Maybe, depending on how many PS2 games were played versus PS3 games, they were actually saving us an insignificant amount of money by removing a rarely used bit of circuitry.

Re:Hm (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542590)

I suppose everyone in the world is not already as intelligent and knowledgeable as you and might possibly find this interesting. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to allow the less intelligent and knowledgeable the opportunity to discover something like this so that then they will be as intelligent and knowledgeable as you. :-)

Re:Hm (3, Informative)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542674)

I actually know next to nothing about electronic circuits. I think the most complex thing I ever built was a metronome with variable tempo.

I would expect that almost everyone here would know this kind of stuff already...

He's merely pointing out (1)

pem (1013437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543544)

that a direct quote from the article, "I believe this is the first time someone has taken an integrated circuit and said, 'Let's get rid of the part that we don't need,'" is directly contradicted by reality.

Is that so wrong?

Re:Hm (3, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542592)

They aren't cutting out entire blocks of ASIC circuitry in a Boolean keep or remove decision. They are sacrificing precision by reducing transistor count, and doing so in a somewhat heuristic approach in order to limit the loss of precision. Their algorithm will explore the worst case and best case of each arithmetic operation in order to achieve this. Not too different from the MiniMax approach to playing Chess or other board games.

Re:Hm (0, Flamebait)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542628)

Been doing that since I bought my very first car - oh, wait. Slashdot. Car analogies. Crap. Here come the mods from hell . . . .

Re:Hm (1)

Green Salad (705185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543014)

On the other hand, a bicycle analogy is green...and therefore much more politically correct than your carbon-spewing analogy...chuckle...

Re:Hm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542644)

The article is confusing, but it sounds like they're sacrificing correctness. They heuristically pick out circuits that give a fairly low error rate, cut it out, and just write the software to deal with the new errors that crop up.

Re:Hm (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542668)

Yes really. Only the higher education folks could figure out such a thing. See, that's what a $40,000 plus education gets you; that ability to figure out what most people without a degree would already know.

Re:Hm (1)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542714)

Except they didn't just make a broad statement that such a thing should/could be possible. Any dummy could do that. They're actually *doing* it.

Re:Hm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542942)

Yes. The information has just now being released as part of Obama's "Innovation" campaign. Meanwhile, behind the facade of an innocent looking trade meeting. Oblig: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/11/us_tpp_proposal_leaked/

Re:Hm (1)

georgesdev (1987622) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543012)

It dates back to 1964, it's called RISC architecture.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_instruction_set_computer#Early_RISC [wikipedia.org]

RISC was wrong (2)

cjonslashdot (904508) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543836)

Yes, you are right. This is the spirit of RISC.

But RISC was wrong. RISC resulted from a study of what instruction were actually used by typical applications that were compiled with standard compilers. This is like studying what railroad tracks are used and concluding that rail travel would be optimum if certain tracks were eliminated and others improved. This conclusion is wrong, because it assumes that existing rails include all optimal paths. In actuality, there might be paths that do not currently have rails.

Thus, the conclusion that a CPU should have fewer instructions is specious. A more accurate conclusion would have been that a CPU should have an optimum set of instructions for its intended task.

For example, consider the fact that linked lists are heavily used by most C programs. Yet, the C language does not have a linked list primitive: one has to use a library. Therefore, if a CPU had linked list operations built in (as the VAX did), a C compiler could not even use those operations because the language does not support it. Instead of concluding that the CPU's instruction should be fewer, one might conclude that the CPU should have linked list operations built in, and that linked list operations should be added to C. The result might be much faster programs.

My point is that RISC exposed the issue of the matching of CPU instruction to software, but the conclusion that CPUs should be simpler was wrong. The right conclusion would have been that CPUs should have optimal instructions, which might mean removing some and adding others - not merely removing some.

Re:RISC was wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35544054)

This is like studying what railroad tracks are used and concluding that rail travel would be optimum if certain tracks were eliminated and others improved.

And in case anyone thinks this sounds like a good idea, it's been tried [wikipedia.org] , and essentially destroyed the network.

Re:RISC was wrong (2)

deapbluesea (1842210) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544452)

RISC resulted from a study of what instruction were actually used by typical applications that were compiled with standard compilers.

Reduced instruction set computing, or RISC (pronounced /rsk/), is a CPU design strategy based on the insight that simplified (as opposed to complex) instructions can provide higher performance if this simplicity enables much faster execution of each instruction.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_instruction_set_computing [wikipedia.org]

The point of RISC wasn't to reduce the instruction set to those most commonly used, although the concept of "make the common case fast" resulted in some of that. The main goal was to reduce the complexity of what each instruction does so that any instruction will execute in the same number of clock cycles as any other instruction. By enforcing instruction execution time, this opened up the ability to pipeline instructions easily. In fact, this model was used in the Pentium Pro. and Pentium Core architectures which use instruction decoders to "rewrite" CISC instructions into micro-ops that are pretty analogous to RISC operations. The micro-ops allow the processor to take advantage of things like out of order execution, speculative execution, and parallelization. If the processor stuck to a purely CISC instruction set, this wouldn't work as each instruction has a different execution time and pipelining would become extremely complex.

The right conclusion would have been that CPUs should have optimal instructions, which might mean removing some and adding others - not merely removing some.

I suppose you reached the right conclusion, but for the wrong reason. RISC simply wasn't about "matching of CPU instruction to software". It was about making instructions simple and easy to implement. This concept is alive and well in every modern day processor. I don't think your version of RISC development comports well with the actual history of the development of MIPS and other RISC architectures.

Re:Hm (1)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543024)

Or you could design for the specific task, putting in only necessary parts, and gain even more efficiency. To use the bicycle analogy of the article, you could design a carbon fiber framed racing bike instead of taking the kickstand off the Schwinn. Even more newsworthy.

Re:Hm (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543416)

Gee, that would be like... the DSP or the GPU!

Re:Hm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543464)

It's news that removing unnecessary parts of a circuit make it more efficient? Really?

Your assumption is unfounded. You can't prove that any circuit with unnecessary parts will necessarily be less efficient than the same circuit without those parts. Besides, we are talking about microprocessors, not simple circuits (though the same applies). +5 fail.

Exciting Discovery!!!111 (1)

Maintenance Goof (1487053) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543492)

I say we call this a Reduced Instruction Set Computer! This could be BIG!

Re:Hm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543784)

What makes you think this is here because it's 'news' rather than a recently published interesting article?

Re:Hm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35544000)

Applying for that Slashdot censorship job, are ya? Can I assume that you won't be including this article in your own news aggregating website?

Re:Hm (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544026)

It's news that doing so at the expense of increasing the error rate is such a significant net win for selected applications.

Wow. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542500)

Pruning. Go figure

Re:Wow. (1)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542566)

Indeed. Pruning - makes your processor get up and go!

Re:Wow. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542734)

Now all we need is fertilizer for our processors. Then we prune them and make them grow!

Then I'll graft bits and pieces of other processor and chips and make my own type of chip!

But then, the bugs get at it and I'll have to spray poison on it....hmmmm.....maybe I could make organic chips?! Think about it: computer chips made out of carbon! The hippie computer scientists will pay a premium for those!

I'll be rich!

Training wheels (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542516)

I'll be removing the training wheels off my Harley this afternoon... thanks to this article I can be badass and efficient

Re:Training wheels (2)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543550)

I'll be removing the training wheels off my Harley this afternoon... thanks to this article I can be badass and efficient

Harley and efficient are two words that just don't go together. Bad and Harley might, but badass and Harley certainly don't either. Harleys only seem to appeal to mid-life wannabe posers that can afford them and like riding loud, leaking, unreliable motorcycles. The smart riders buy Japanese for the reliability and don't worry about trying to impress (but actually annoy) their neighbors with a sputtering Harley.

As Charlie Sheen would say, (1)

Dee Ann_1 (1731324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542534)

Well DUH....

Now my computer won't start up! (4, Funny)

ClaraBow (212734) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542556)

I was trying to make it more efficient by getting rid of some of the unused cores, so I got a pair of scissors and pruned off a couple of those cores. I put the pruned, aero dynamic chip back in my machine and now it won't start up! On the plus side, the power savings are noticeable :)

Re:Now my computer won't start up! (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543662)

Ah, tin snips: Favorite tool of "computer technicians" who try to return damaged parts to the store I work at.

ASIC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542562)

Why not just go with ASIC design if you don't need those fancy floating point units?

Slashdot cynics are right again (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542580)

Someone's going to chime in and say that the naysayers are oversimplifying or denigrating this because they didn't think of it, but I think the quote below says enough.

"I believe this is the first time someone has taken an integrated circuit and said, 'Let's get rid of the part that we don't need,'" said principal investigator Krishna Palem, a Professor of Computing at Rice.

Uh, no, Professor, I don't believe it is.

Re:Slashdot cynics are right again (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542596)

That was my thought, that sort of thinking led Cyrix and AMD to lose serious ground to Intel when they failed to recognize the implications of the FPU to gaming. They were already behind, but this was a pretty significant loss for them.

Plus, wasn't this one of the ideas behind RISC?

Re:Slashdot cynics are right again (2)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542888)

The big idea behind RISC was to design simpler processors in the first place so you could ramp up the clock rates. This is taking an existing chip and getting rid of portions of it. They're in the same ballpark, but not quite the same thing. Modern x86 chips were designed to be RISC with a CISC-to-RISC instruction decoder place in front, so it's kind of like that.

Re:Slashdot cynics are right again (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543026)

Plus, wasn't this one of the ideas behind RISC?

No, RISC was an attempt to design a minimal instruction set under the assumption that a smaller instruction set leads to smaller CPUs that can be pipelined more efficiently.

This is going at it from the other side—taking an existing instruction set and determining which instructions are least frequently used and can be microcoded or software-emulated to allow for smaller chip design.

The subtle difference is that this isn't changing the ISA. It is just doing a time-space tradeoff on instructions (hardware vs. microcode or trap-based software emulation.

Re:Slashdot cynics are right again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542788)

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Mark Twain
The truely sad part of this is that this is a Professor of Computing at Rice. Have they fallen that far already? I mean, as a professor representing the Computer department of a major university, if you don't want to take the time to do actual research before making comments like that, you could at least google it.
http://tinyurl.com/4l8neu8

Re:Slashdot cynics are right again (1)

deapbluesea (1842210) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544474)

Really what is happening is they are taking an existing design and trying to automagically modify it for their purposes instead of simply engineering a processor that does what they need. I'm pretty sure that if someone sat down and did a clean-sheet design for a hearing-aid processor, you would do even better than TFA's method. The question becomes cost. Do you have a computer program do some pruning based on a probabilistic heuristic of some kind, or do you pay an engineer to actually design an efficient single-purpose processor? My guess is that it's cheaper to pay the engineer once you've figured in the cost of designing and writing the code so that it works for your particular purpose, but I don't have any data to back that up.

Still, it's interesting that you can do this, I just don't know why you would do it....

That's fine ... (4, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542600)

... for a specific application, like a hearing aid. Not so good for microprocessors intended for general purpose use (broad markets).

If you have sufficient market volume, you can afford to produce some sort of 'application specific integrate circuit'. Hmm, an ASIC. Now there's a novel idea (putting on jacket to make a dash to the patent office).

Re:That's fine ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542752)

That's fine [...] for a specific application, like a hearing aid.

Indeed. I have one of these new ultra-efficient hearing aids. It works great if you can deal with it blaring static in your ear when the battery gets low or when you adjust the volume. :D

(only kidding)

Re:That's fine ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543686)

Indeed, these are ASICs that they're dealing with. Obviously removing random transistors would be bad for a CPU!

I believe what they do is design an ASIC to meet their criteria, then use an algorithm to try to figure out which transistors are least important. If the chip still mostly works without that transistor, they remove it and start again.

dom

Re:That's fine ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35546522)

... for a specific application, like a hearing aid. Not so good for microprocessors intended for general purpose use (broad markets).

If you have sufficient market volume, you can afford to produce some sort of 'application specific integrate circuit'. Hmm, an ASIC. Now there's a novel idea (putting on jacket to make a dash to the patent office).

Since when do hearing aids have DOUBLE the transistors that they needed?

Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last century (5, Interesting)

shoppa (464619) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542612)

Removing unnecessary parts from a circuit until it stops working, is now something "new"?

From Wikipedia entry on Madman Muntz:

Muntz played the madman in his unorthodox television commercials, but in fact he was a shrewd businessman and a self-taught electrical engineer. By trial and error, taking apart and studying Philco, RCA, and DuMont televisions, he figured out how to reduce the devices' electrical components to their minimum functional number. This practice became known as "Muntzing".
He often carried a pair of wire clippers, and when he thought that one of his employees was "over-engineering" a circuit, he would begin snipping components out until the picture or sound stopped working. At that point, he would tell the engineer "Well, I guess you have to put that last part back in" and walk away.

Re:Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last cent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542620)

Ha ha!

Re:Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last cent (3, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542704)

Yeah, I'm not that crazy about that idea.

From what I gather the components being removed are most likely resistors and capacitors. And sure, some can be probably removed, if you don't mind ending up with a noisy power supply and too much current going to various parts.

So you're left with a device that kind of works, but that may mysteriously stop working in a few months.

Re:Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last cent (2)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542846)

He was probably responsible for those TVs I had when I was young which would lose sync when conditions weren't perfect, as in: either the Sun or the Moon were up.

Re:Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last cent (1)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544122)

this is the result of engineers who don't know how to design.

if you are _designing_ something, why in the world are you going to put in something you don't need ?

I spend my days trying to come up with clever ideas to NOT use things. Simple as possible and no simpler.

Madman Muntz went bankrupt (3, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544472)

What you didn't mention is that "Muntz admitted his business lost $1,457,000 from April to August 1953,[28] and although he tried to reorganize, Muntz TV filed bankruptcy and went out of business in 1959" (from the same Wikipedia article)

You see, engineers don't sprinkle components at random. Every component in an electronic circuit is there for a reason. If something can be removed, what you have is a defective specification, maybe your circuit is designed to perform a function that's not often used, maybe it's designed to function in a situation that never happens. In that case you can ask the engineer to redesign for looser specifications.

Removing components at random is just stupid.

Re:Madman Muntz famous(and rich)for this last cent (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544626)

Sounds a bit like how Woz built the first Apple computers, finding ways to do more with less.

erm (5, Insightful)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542638)

"I believe this is the first time someone has taken an integrated circuit and said, 'Let's get rid of the part that we don't need,'"

I believe this to be a basic part of design.

Twice as fast, 600 times more expensive... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542650)

Was there some point to this submission? Yes, I would not RTFA because the summary sounded fairly retarded. Then again, there could have been something as slashdot editors often produce completely unreadable stuff.

Wait until US insurance companies chime in. (1)

ethicalcannibal (1632871) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542654)

Great. It's more efficient. Now they can charge even more, and your insurance won't cover it because it's experimental, but even if they do, you'll only get one hearing aid ever decade because your insurance deems that acceptable.

Woz did it first (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542700)

All good engineers do it, really...

Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542702)

I'm hearing impaired from birth (23 yrs). Just got my newest pair last week (previous pair is 5 years old, but working perfectly).

In several ways, this new pair is an upgrade.... but in one key way, I fucking hate these things. Both the previous and current hearing aids are digital (my previous pairs were analog). With the older pair there is a two second delay between turning the hearing aid on and hearing stuff. The new pair has a minimum of 6 seconds...

So if I need to scratch the inside of my ear quickly, I can do that in a second. Then I wait another 6 before I can hear again. Similarly, if I'm working without hearing aids in (relaxing, comfortable etc) and someone says something to me, I now have to wait almost 10 seconds before I can have them repeat what was said, then reply.

See the problem?

Hearing aid engineers are doing a lot of this work wrong (or for the wrong market, aka old people). Battery life is fine (a bit more than 2 weeks). I don't use the shitty auto-background-blocking programs on the hearing aid, either.

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542712)

I'm hearing impaired from birth (23 yrs). Just got my newest pair last week (previous pair is 5 years old, but working perfectly).

In several ways, this new pair is an upgrade.... but in one key way, I fucking hate these things. Both the previous and current hearing aids are digital (my previous pairs were analog). With the older pair there is a two second delay between turning the hearing aid on and hearing stuff. The new pair has a minimum of 6 seconds...

So if I need to scratch the inside of my ear quickly, I can do that in a second. Then I wait another 6 before I can hear again. Similarly, if I'm working without hearing aids in (relaxing, comfortable etc) and someone says something to me, I now have to wait almost 10 seconds before I can have them repeat what was said, then reply.

See the problem?

Hearing aid engineers are doing a lot of this work wrong (or for the wrong market, aka old people). Battery life is fine (a bit more than 2 weeks). I don't use the shitty auto-background-blocking programs on the hearing aid, either.

Guess I wasn't logged in when I posted this. Replies to this one will get my attention instead :)

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542850)

The new pair has a minimum of 6 seconds...

Just wait until Microsoft ports Vista to these :-(.

So if I need to scratch the inside of my ear quickly, I can do that in a second. Then I wait another 6 before I can hear again.

So, why don't these things have some sort of 'suspend' mode, where they can wake up quickly?

If battery life is the issue, why don't hearing aids come with rechargeable batteries? Take them out at night. Plug them into a charging adapter and they'll be topped of (with a capacity of a few days) the next morning. I used to have a tiny FM radio with a rechargeable battery and charging adapter. The adapter itself could either be plugged into a wall wart or powered by 4 AA cells (to make the whole thing usable where no AC outlet was available).

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 3 years ago | (#35542976)

I would LOVE to track me down a HA engineer at Phonak. I think they're all in Europe though.

Suspend mode would be nice. I sort of can do it, e.g. put the hearing aid in "tele-coil" mode which is used for phone conversations (doesn't use microphone -> won't be any feedback loop = noise). But you can only cycle through the programs in one direction, and there's 5 of them, so that's 5 button presses. A second toggle button like the volume control would be nice (aka back and forward), but apparently they choose a single push button to make it easier for people with limited dexterity.

The batteries are not a problem. I can get around with with just my right ear, and always have extra batteries sitting around (coat pockets, car, backpack, apartment, parent's house, etc). In addition, the zinc-air batteries a a pretty high energy-density battery to begin with. I also got a 4 year supply of batteries along with the hearing aids, so that's nice too. (In the past I've paid about $.50 apiece)

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543626)

But you can only cycle through the programs in one direction, and there's 5 of them, so that's 5 button presses. A second toggle button like the volume control would be nice (aka back and forward), but apparently they choose a single push button to make it easier for people with limited dexterity.

Why don't these things have BlueTooth? Not just for the obvious cell phone connectivity. But imagine an app on your phone/PDA/whatever that talks to the hearing aid(s) and toggles them between modes, has nice big buttons and sliders on a GUI and can display some info about the hearing aid state.

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543918)

Bluetooth is nowhere near low-power enough. The hearing aids can actually communicate via a lower power (less info of course) wireless method that I don't know much about. Such allows both hearing aids to change modes simultaneously, but that's not a feature I want to be restrained by, and so had my audiologist disable it.

I have wires that plug directly into an add-on boot on my hearing aids. I have zero problem listening to music.

Plus I've played with bluetooth enough to find it to be unreliable way too often.

I combined bluetooth and the wires into a 2-of-a-kind setup that you can see here:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~erelson/BluetoothHeadphones.html [umich.edu]

I enjoy discussing my observations regarding my hearing aids experience :)

Some of the latest ones do have bluetooth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543980)

But you're off your rocker if you think that manufacturers are going to give device state information to the average joe that owns a hearing aid.

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

joew (16307) | more than 3 years ago | (#35545968)

Do you actually use all 5 modes ? If not just have them reprogrammed so ever other mode is t-coil. Hearing aids seem to be continuously improving but over the years they have removed two things I miss 1) the volume knob, 2) an actual off switch.

Re:Not what hearing aid processors need (1)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 3 years ago | (#35546020)

I have uses for 5 modes. I need to go back in and get the progs switched around a bit. The intended configuration will be:
1) Default 2) telecoil 3) active background blocking weak 4) active background blocking strong 5) direct audio input only (aka the cables mentioned in another branch of the thread)

In addition these new aids auto detect sound and switch to microphone + direct audio input. (so previously this config was it's own programming slot)

Suspend mode doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543078)

The power drain for most hearing aids is measured in milli-amperes per hour. Moreover, many do not even have "off" switches.

Re:Suspend mode doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543584)

milli-amperes per hour.

The correct units would be milliamperes. No 'per hour' needed.

Re:Suspend mode doesn't make sense (1)

Mogusha (1091607) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544282)

I always thought power was measured in Newton meters per second, Joules per second, or more commonly as Watts.

Re:Suspend mode doesn't make sense (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544790)

And I would hope the measurements would be in microamperes. Or that the D cell that powers it is a standard one, not an expensive lithium D cell...

What brand is your new pair? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543010)

Between the time to boot and the "shitty" background blocking programs, I'm guessing that your new pair have some craptastic software.

That said, my hearing aids are almost ten years old. Even though digital, they don't have any noticeable lag between being turned on and being useful. But, on the other hand, my condition is genetic and my mother, 3 uncles and an aunt wear heariing aids. Many of them have very recent models and none have a six second lag. That's a pretty long span of time.

Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542778)

If you look carefully at hearing aid technology of the last 40 years, you'll see that digitization has brought precisely *nothing* to the benefit of the hearing impaired. It's still limited by the terrible quality mini-microphones, the very strange temporal smearing introducted by gain controls, and the "if everybody claps their hands together and really wishes hard, we can really tune this hearing aid perfectly!" game that is played by most audiology technicians, who have no scientific or experiemental basis for the settings they select. They have undocumented and local voodoo procedures for setting them.

Digitally sampling it and overprocessing the signal into "power bands" and handling them independently actually throws out critical timing information, that the nerves of the inner ear do process *if* they ever get the data. Simple direct amplification, and clipping excessively loud sounds, was shown to work well by Licklider in World War II. His work is basically annoyed by modern hearing aid manufacturers, all looking for the next patent and the next feature to get the families and insurance compoanies to invest in what is basically no better than an electronic ear trumpet, and which due to its undersized microphones and circuitry is swamped by thermal and environmental noise.

Given that, they can throw out the whole chip and replace it with, oh, about 50 transistors and make the batteries last 10 times as long.

Reminds me of a joke (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543394)

Patient I'm losing my hearing

Doctor (After checking him for anything serious) Don't worry it's part of the aging process.

Patient Can you do anything for me?

Doctor We can get you a hearing aid.

Patient How much will that cost?

Doctor Well, we have two models. One costs $1000 and the other costs $5.

Patient What's the difference between the two.

Doctor One is a sophisticated minitiarized amplifier assembled, customized to fit your ear, and tuned by highly trained technicians. The other is a button with a wire that goes to a wooden box in your pocket.

Patient What does the button do?

Doctor Nothing. But you'd be surprised at how much louder people talk when they see you wearing it.

Faster, more efficient, at what cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35542970)

From my knowledge of integrated circuits (I am an EE), these small "unnecessary" circuits are generally used to improve stability and reliability. Yes, you can cut them out of an IC, but you run the risk of making a product that is significantly less reliable due to variations in the manufacturing process.

For example, it is possible to make an amplifier out of MOSFETs using only one p-channel and one n-channel, but typically this is not done because manufacturing processes can cause significant variation in the gain of an amplifier using such a configuration. For this reason, additional circuitry is added in order to make the amplifier more invariant to process variations. Granted, this is more true for analog circuitry than for digital, but the effect is similar for digital circuitry as well.

Hot on the trail of reinventing the wheel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35543052)

What an advance! If they continue on this path, they may even discover ASICs.

It's the Analogy, Stupid... (1)

The Wooden Badger (540258) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543056)

If I had to use a commuter bike that I could modify on a race, I'd be thinking about changing the gear ratio before dropping a marginal amount of weight.

Re:It's the Analogy, Stupid... (1)

kevorkian (142533) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543548)

Are you making the assumption of a single gear commuter bike ??

My commuter class bike ( often refereed to as hybrid ) has 15 speeds/gears. I use , perhaps 3 or 4 of them .. But the range is there , both high and low.

What exactly would you change ?? give it a higher high gear ?? A lower low ?? How would that be better then loosing 10 pounds of crap ??

Your comment is not making sense to me. Please elaborate.

also (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543064)

also they are twice as good at doing half the nothing. They run empty infinite loops at half the power too.

New Idea? Or just a twist on an old one? (1)

villain222 (1120485) | more than 3 years ago | (#35543376)

"Pruning" has been around a while. Intel's been doing it since the 486 sx. That was just a laser zapped cpu that didn't use all of its components to get the job done at a less capable pace. You had to pay a premium to get the full DX. Now we're cutting things out to get the better performance. So now we will have to pay more for performance and for a lesser supply of materials. See, Capitalism wins once again. That's probably the real innovation here.

Re:New Idea? Or just a twist on an old one? (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544840)

The FPU was an expensive low-yield section of the circuit on the 486 processor. Often, the 486sx parts were ones with defects in the FPU section, so they just disabled the FPU and sold them cheap.

Article is incomplete (1)

erice (13380) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544058)

There is obviously more to the technology, but the "unnecessary" information has been pruned in order to make the article tighter and more accessible to the masses. Unfortunately, they removed all the bits that separate the approach from the engineering norm so it no longer functions as News for Nerds.

It's about the Error Rate. (1)

Jason Pollock (45537) | more than 3 years ago | (#35544072)

The key part they are removing is error detection and correction. They are creating chips which have an ~8% chance of producing an incorrect result. Supposedly hearing aids will accept a 10% error rate, so it is a good trade off.

These aren't "redundant" parts, they're parts which prevent errors from happening. It's just that in some applications they don't care about errors.

It's like looking at the various floating point bugs and going, "meh, close enough". Sucks for a spreadsheet, but if all you care about is integers 0-10, you probably aren't going to notice.

Here's the actual press release:
http://www.media.rice.edu/media/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=15497&SnID=154992879 [rice.edu]

"Inexact Hardware" seems to be the new term. Since they mention hearing aids, it seems to be that it's bringing the fuzziness of analog back into the digital world.

In related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35545548)

Removing parts from a chip that are not required for the operation of said chip results in a chip that is smaller, faster, etc.

In other news, scientists announce that water is wet.

Pareto Principle? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35545932)

This reminds my of the Pareto Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle) . Named after an Italian economist who observed something similar in 1906.

I get the feeling that this is one of those ideas that we will continue to discover on a periodic basis.

Silly Rabit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35546056)

Most of the logic in a chip (ASIC or CPU based design) is not visible as user features. I would guess probably 40% of the a silicon can be removed without the end customer knowing about it. That doesn't mean those transistors are not needed.Here are some examples of "non user visible" circuits

- SCAN (for testing the flops) can take up to 20% of the area
- Redundant memories (2 or more bits per memory location) to increase yield at a specific speed
- Extra logic to account for process variations
- Debug blocks
- Manufacturing visibility blocks

These days most of the Moor's law improvements is used to reduce power and increase manufacturing efficiency.

timothy is at it again (or how stupid is he?) (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35546656)

I don't think Timothy is a nerd. I don't even think he knows what one is.

I'm sorry if this offends you tim, but from what i've seen, you are really fucking lame. You post up the stupidest fucking articles possible.

What, does your 8 year old cousin do this for you?

I understand the concept of "practice makes perfect" but you should realize that there is some things we aren't good at, and this job you do, here at slashdot, isn't for you. You suck at it. You haven't gotten better, you've gotten worse. Why don't you find something else that's more your speed. I don't know what that is, and I don't care. As long as it is far away from slashdot.

Homer was right! (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 3 years ago | (#35546826)

SPEED HOLES!!!!!

Why can removing components make chips faster? (1)

Tepic++ (221291) | more than 3 years ago | (#35547060)

Digital chips are roughly comprised of memory (flip flops) with logic in between. On each clock cycle the logic takes data from one piece of (input) memory, transforms it in some way and stores it in some other (output) memory.

One of the primary limitations on the speed of the chip is the longest path. The length of a path is roughly a function of the physical length of the path that the data takes from input to output memory and the number/type of logic gates in between. The speed of the chip is roughly limited to 1/[Time taken for data to cross the longest path] Hz

If you remove a significant amount of logic there is a chance that you might be removing the longest and most complex paths for data to cross and also that all the components can be spaced closer together, meaning that there is less distance for the data to cover. For this reason, removing parts of the chip might be able to speed it up.

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