Accuracy is generally an important consideration in computer chips, but a team of researchers led by Rice University are touting a new "inexact" chip (dubbed PCMOS) that they say could lead to as much as a fifteen-fold increase in efficiency. Their latest work, which won a best paper award at a recent ACM conference, builds on years of research in the field from the university, and is already moving far beyond the lab -- some inexact hardware is being used in the "i-slate" educational tablet developed by the Rice-NTU Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics, 50,000 of which are expected to wind up in India's Mahabubnagar school district over the next three years. As for the chips themselves, their inexactness comes not just from one process, but a variety of different measures that can be used on their own or together -- including something the researchers describe as "pruning," which eliminate rarely used portions of the chip. All of that naturally comes with some trade-offs (less defined video processing is one example given), but the researchers say those are often outweighed by the benefits -- like cheaper, faster chips that require far less power.
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