If you know anything about computers, you’ve likely heard
of Intel- they’re one of the largest hardware manufacturers around, and provide
tech for everything from media centers to gaming consoles. What you may not
know, however, is how they go about developing this technology- through a
rather revolutionary method known as “tick tock”.
What it is:
Developed in early 2007, “tick tock” is “Intel's strategy to
predictably introduce a new microarchitecture--the tock, such as
"Nehalem"--and a new silicon process technology--the tick, such as
our 45nm process technology--in alternating years. Tick-tock strategy provides
Intel with a competitive advantage. “(Intel)
Okay, so I’m sure at least a few of you have noticed a
problem with the preceding paragraph: Unless you’ve more than a passing
knowledge of computers- specifically of hardware and software- they might as
well be speaking Greek. So in order to understand Intel’s Tick Tock, we’re
first going to have to understand two key terms: Microarchitecture and Process
Technology. Here’s where it gets a little complicated.
At its base, each computer chip consists of two primary
elements: The Instruction Set Architecture, and the Microarchitecture. The
Instruction Set Architecture is related to the programming of a computer- how
the computer understands what each 1 and 0 in binary (the basic language of
computers) means, what instructions are to be carried out and when, et-cetera.
To simplify, the Instruction Set Architecture is the part of the computer chip
or processor that deals with what the chip does- it’s a ‘bridge’ between
software and hardware.
The Microarchitecture, on the other hand, can be seen as how
the ISA does what it does. It’s how everything is ultimately organized on the
chip or processor. Granted, there’s a bit more to it than that, but for the
purpose of understanding Tick Tock, that’s really all you need to know.
So basically, on every tock, Intel releases a new means
of organizing a computer chip, so to speak.
Got it? Good. Now, for the second term.
So you might notice that I’ve referred to it as “process
technology” rather than “Silicon Process Technology”; the reason being,
well…this term is actually a bit ambiguous. We’ve detailed how the Instruction
Set Architecture deals with what the chip does, the microarchitecture is how it
does that, and the processor; the processor is basically what kicks into gear
once the ISA has determined what needs to be done. To get right into it, the
ISA can be seen as the foreman of a factory, the Microarchitecture can be seen
as the organization of the factory floor, and the Processor comprises the
workers and machines that keep the factory running- they carry out the
instructions of the foreman as best they can with the way the factory’s
organized. So on every tick, Intel
releases a new processor.
In Layman’s Terms
Ultimately, Intel’s Tick Tock method can be summed up in
the following simplified statement: Every ‘tick’, Intel releases a new, more
complex processor. Then, every ‘tock’, Intel develops a microarchitectural
‘blueprint’ of sorts designed specifically FOR the increased complexity of the
The advantages of this are pretty clear – they bring out
new technology one year and then proceed to optimize that technology the
following year. Rather than blindly forging ahead and running into
compatibility or design issues, they go back and forth, like a pendulum. A very
interesting innovation, and one that’s helped Intel to jump ahead in the market
since its development. Tick, tock, tick, tock.