Ciro Santilli $$ Sponsor Ciro $$ 中国独裁统治 China Dictatorship 新疆改造中心、六四事件、法轮功、郝海东、709大抓捕、2015巴拿马文件 邓家贵、低端人口、西藏骚乱
Born: 1965
Died: 2010+-ish
This is the lowest level of abstraction computer, at which the basic gates and power are described.
At this level, you are basically thinking about the 3D layered structure of a chip, and how to make machines that will allow you to create better, usually smaller, gates.
This is the mantra of the semiconductor industry:
  • power and area are the main limiting factors of chips, i.e., your budget:
    • chip area is ultra expensive because there are sporadic errors in the fabrication process, and each error in any part of the chip can potentially break the entire chip. Although there are
      The percentage of working chips is called the yield.
      In some cases however, e.g. if the error only affects single CPU of a multi-core CPU, then they actually deactivate the broken CPU after testing, and sell the worse CPU cheaper with a clear branding of that: this is called binning,5892.html
    • power is a major semiconductor limit as of 2010's and onwards. If everything turns on at once, the chip would burn. Designs have to account for that.
  • performance is the goal.
    Conceptually, this is basically a set of algorithms that you want your hardware to solve, each one with a respective weight of importance.
    Serial performance is fundamentally limited by the longest path that electrons have to travel in a given clock cycle.
    The way to work around it is to create pipelines, splitting up single operations into multiple smaller operations, and storing intermediate results in memories.
They put a lot of expensive equipment together, much of it made by other companies, and they make the entire chip for companies ordering them.
A list of fabs can be seen at: and basically summarizes all the companies that have fabs.
One of the companies that has fabs, which buys machines from companies such as ASML and puts them together in so called "silicon fabs" to make the chips
Basically what register transfer level compiles to in order to achieve a real chip implementation.
After this is done, the final step is place and route.
They can be designed by third parties besides the semiconductor fabrication plants. E.g. Arm Ltd. markets its Artisan Standard Cell Libraries as mentioned e.g. at: This came from a 2004 acquisition:, obviously.
The standard cell library is typically composed of a bunch of versions of somewhat simple gates, e.g.:
  • AND with 2 inputs
  • AND with 3 inputs
  • AND with 4 inputs
  • OR with 2 inputs
  • OR with 3 inputs
and so on.
Each of those gates has to be designed by hand as a 3D structure that can be produced in a given fab.
Simulations are then carried out, and the electric properties of those structures are characterized in a standard way as a bunch of tables of numbers that specify things like:
  • how long it takes for electrons to pass through
  • how much heat it produces
Those are then used in power, performance and area estimates.
Open source ones:
A set of software programs that compile high level register transfer level languages such as Verilog into something that a fab can actually produce. One is reminded of a compiler toolchain but on a lower level.
The most important steps of that include:
The output of this step is another Verilog file, but one that exclusively uses interlinked cell library components.
Given a bunch of interlinked standard cell library elements from the logic synthesis step, actually decide where exactly they are going to go on 2D (stacked 2D) integrated circuit surface.
The main ones as of 2020 are:
They apparently even produced a real working small RISC-V chip with the flow, not bad.
It is quite amazing to read through books such as The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray by Charles J. Murray (1997), as it makes you notice that earlier CPUs (all before the 70's) were not made with integrated circuits, but rather smaller pieces glued up on PCBs! E.g. the arithmetic logic unit was actually a discrete component at one point.
The reason for this can also be understood quite clearly by reading books such as Robert Noyce: The Man Behind the Microchip by Leslie Berlin (2006). The first integrated circuits were just too small for this. It was initially unimaginable that a CPU would fit in a single chip! Even just having a very small number of components on a chip was already revolutionary and enough to kick-start the industry. Just imagine how much money any level of integration saved in those early days for production, e.g. as opposed to manually soldering point-to-point constructions. Also the reliability, size an weight gains were amazing. In particular for military and spacial applications originally.
Video 1. A briefing on semiconductors by Fairchild Semiconductor (1967) Source.
Register transfer level is the abstraction level at which computer chips are mostly designed.
The only two truly relevant RTL languages as of 2020 are: Verilog and VHDL. Everything else compiles to those, because that's all that EDA vendors support.
Much like a C compiler abstracts away the CPU assembly to:
  • increase portability across ISAs
  • do optimizations that programmers can't feasibly do without going crazy
Compilers for RTL languages such as Verilog and VHDL abstract away the details of the specific semiconductor technology used for those exact same reasons.
The compilers essentially compile the RTL languages into a standard cell library.
Examples of companies that work at this level include:
Verilog simulator that transpiles to C++.
Our definition of fog computing: a system that uses the computational resources of individuals who voluenteer their own devices, in which you give each of the volunteers part of a computational problem that you want to solve.
Folding@home and SETI@home are perfect example of that definition.
Advantages of fog: there is only one, reusing hardware that would be otherwise idle.
  • in cloud, you can put your datacenter on the location with the cheapest possible power. On fog you can't.
  • on fog there is some waste due to network communication.
  • you will likely optimize code less well because you might be targeting a wide array of different types of hardware, so more power (and time) wastage. Furthermore, some of the hardware used will not not be optimal for the task, e.g. CPU instead of GPU.
All of this makes Ciro Santilli doubtful if it wouldn't be more efficient for volunteers simply to donate money rather than inefficient power usage.
Some good insights on the earlier history of the industry at: The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray by Charles J. Murray (1997).
Figure 1. Intel supercomputer market share from 1993 to 2020. Source. This graph is shocking, they just took over the entire market! Some good pre-Intel context at The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray by Charles J. Murray (1997), e.g. in those earlier days, custom architectures like Cray's and many others dominated.
In conventional speech of the early 2000's, is basically a synonym for dynamic random-access memory.
DRAM is often shortened to just random-access memory.
The opposite of volatile memory.
You can't just shred individual sSD files because SSD writes only at large granularities, so hardware/drivers have to copy stuff around all the time to compact it. This means that leftover copies are left around everywhere.
What you can do however is to erase the entire thing with vendor support, which most hardware has support for. On hardware encrypted disks, you can even just erase the keys:
TODO does shredding the
Video 2. The Engineering Puzzle of Storing Trillions of Bits in your Smartphone / SSD using Quantum Mechanics by Branch Education (2020) Source. Nice animations show how quantum tunnelling is used to set bits in flash memory.
Electronic Ink such as that found on Amazon Kindle is the greatest invention ever made by man.
Once E Ink reaches reasonable refresh rates to replace liquid crystal displays, the world will finally be saved.
It would allow Ciro Santilli to spend his entire life in front of a screen rather in the real world without getting tired eyes, and even if it is sunny outside.
Ciro stopped reading non-code non-news a while back though, so the current refresh rates are useless, what a shame.
OMG, this is amazing:
Remarkable 2 is really, really good. Relatively fast refresh + touchscreen is amazing.
Display size: 10.3 inches. Perfect size
The main interface between the central processing unit and software.
A human readable way to write instructions for an instruction set architecture.
One of the topics covered in Ciro Santilli's Linux Kernel Module Cheat.
Intel is known to have created customized chips for very large clients.
This is mentioned e.g. at:
Intel is known to do custom-ish cuts of Xeons for big customers.
Those chips are then used only in large scale server deployments of those very large clients. Google is one of them most likely, given their penchant for Google custom hardware.
TODO better sources.
This ISA basically completely dominated the smartphone market of the 2010s and beyond, but it started appearing in other areas as the end of Moore's law made it more economical logical for large companies to start developing their own semiconductor, e.g. Google custom silicon, Amazon custom silicon.
Basically, as long as were a huge company seeking to develop a CPU and able to control your own ecosystem independently of Windows' desktop domination (held by the need for backward compatibility with a billion end user programs), ARM would be a possibility on your mind.
The leading no-royalties options as of 2020.
Leading RISC-V consultants as of 2020, they are basically trying to become the Red Hat of the semiconductor industry.
China has been a major client, since the country is trying to increase its semiconductor industry independence, especially given economic sanctions imposed by the USA.
As a result, SiFive moved its legal headquarters to Switzerland in 2019 to try and overcome some of the sanctions.
Their websites a bit shitty, clearly a non cohesive amalgamation of several different groups.
E.g. you have to create several separate accounts, and different regions have completely different accounts and websites.
The Europe replacement part website for example is clearly made by a third party called and has Flex written all over it, and the header of the home page has a slightly broken but very obviously broken CSS. And you can't create an account without a VAT number... and they confirmed by email that they don't sell to non-corporate entities without a VAT number. What a bullshit!
This is Ciro Santilli's favorite laptop brand. He's been on it since the early 2010's after he saw his then-girlfriend-later-wife using it.
Ciro doesn't know how to explain it, but ThinkPads just feel... right. The screen, the keyboard, the lid, the touchpad are all exactly what Ciro likes.
The only problem with ThinkPad is that it is owned by Lenovo which is a Chinese company, and that makes Ciro feel bad. But he likes it too much to quit... what to do?
Ciro is also reassured to see that in every enterprise he's been so far as of 2020, ThinkPads are very dominant. And the same when you see internal videos from other big tech enterprises, all those nerds are running... Ubuntu on ThinkPads! And the ISS.
Those nerds like their ThinkPads so much, that Ciro has seen some acquaintances with crazy old ThinkPad machines, missing keyboard buttons or the like. They just like their machines that much.
ThinkPads are are also designed for repairability, and it is easy to buy replacement parts, and there are OEM part replacement video tutorials: No visible planned obsolescence here! With the caveat that the official online part stores can be shit as mentioned at Section "Lenovo".
The only thing Ciro never understood is the trackpoint: Why would you use that with such an amazing touchpad? And vimium.
Model B V 1.1.
SoC: BMC2836
Model B V 1.2.
SoC: BCM2837
Serial from cat /proc/cpuinfo: 00000000c77ddb77
For Ciro Santilli, this is not a computer keyboard. It is a fetish.
Video 3. Arm 30 Years On: Episode One by Arm Ltd. (2022) Source.
Video 4. Arm 30 Years On: Episode Two by Arm Ltd. (2022) Source.
Video 5. Arm 30 Years On: Episode Three by Arm Ltd. (2022) Source. This one is boring US expansion. Other two are worth it.