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MARK RATLEDGE: Business considers Montana operation

MARK RATLEDGE: Business considers Montana operation

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This month in my Western Montana InBusiness Monthly column, I wrote more about the Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center in Butte and, in particular, a Silicon Valley company that wants to open a new business unit in Montana to take advantage of Gov. Brain Schweitzer's energy policies. (See )

Wave Semiconductor is based in San Jose, Calif., and Ken Wagner, vice president of business development, told me that with what's know as null convention logic, they're making computer chips in a fundamentally different way: the chips don't depend on central clocks.

As a result, these new chips will be much faster and greener than current chip technologies.

Wagner told me that Boolean logic-type gates (the current type of chip technology) are problematic because they require a centralized one-speed clocking system and as such are prone to timing glitches. But with null convention logic, chips don't depend on a central clock running at one speed: they time themselves.

Wagner explained it to me with a metaphor: say we ask two different contractors - one is a "clocked" Boolean contractor and the other is null convention logic - how long it takes to build a house.

The Boolean contractor tells us a few months, because he has to give all the subcontractors a fixed, worst-case time frame of one week to get their jobs done: concrete, framing, drywall, etc.

But if the concrete guy gets done by Wednesday, the contractor can't tell the framer to start; all the framer knows is he starts on Monday, he can't start earlier, and has one week to work. And if the concrete runs into the next Monday, the framer shows up that same Monday and tries to start work anyway, and the two get into an argument.

But the null convention logic contractor gives all the subcontractors cell phones so they can talk to each other. So if the concrete guy gets done on Wednesday instead of Friday, he calls the framer and the framer starts on Thursday instead of Monday. And if the concrete guy runs long into the next week due to bad weather, he calls the framer, and the framer waits.

So the null convention logic contractor gets the house built faster. And cheaper.

And because null convention logic-based chips run much faster, they're 10 times more efficient with power consumption. With everything running on chips - from PCs to home appliances to huge data centers - using less power is the future. And that's why Montana is the hopeful destination of Wave Semiconductor and their null convention logic chips.

Mark Ratledge is an information technology consultant. His website is


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