Monday, 12 February 2007 04:16

Intel develops 80-core supercomputer processor on fingernail

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Chip maker Intel researchers have developed the world’s first programmable processor that delivers supercomputer-like performance from a single, 80-core chip not much larger than the size of a finger nail.

The new chip is the result of research aimed at delivering Teraflops performance for future PCs and servers. Technical details of the Teraflops research chip will be presented at the annual Integrated Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) this week in San Francisco.

Tera-scale performance, and the ability to move terabytes of data, will play a pivotal role in future computers with ubiquitous access to the Internet by powering new applications for education and collaboration, as well as enabling the rise of high-definition entertainment on PCs, servers and handheld devices. Applications include artificial intelligence, instant video communications, photo-realistic games, multimedia data mining and real-time speech recognition.

Intel has no plans to bring prototype chip designed with floating point cores to market. However, the company’s Tera-scale research is instrumental in investigating new innovations in individual or specialized processor or core functions, the types of chip-to-chip and chip-to-computer interconnects required to best move data and, most importantly, how software will need to be designed to best leverage multiple processor cores.

“Our researchers have achieved a wonderful and key milestone in terms of being able to drive multi-core and parallel computing performance forward,” said Justin Rattner, Intel Senior Fellow and chief technology officer. “It points the way to the near future when Teraflops-capable designs will be commonplace and reshape what we can all expect from our computers and the Internet at home and in the office.”

The first time Teraflops performance was achieved was in 1996, on the ASCI Red Supercomputer built by Intel for the Sandia National Laboratory. That computer took up more than 2,000 square feet, was powered by nearly 10,000 Pentium Pro processors, and consumed over 500 kilowatts of electricity.

Intel’s research chip achieves this same performance on a multi-core chip using the same amount of electricity as an ordinary kitchen appliance, according to Intel. The 80-core research chip achieves teraflops of performance while consuming only 62 watts – less than many single-core processors today.

The chip features a tile design in which smaller cores are replicated as “tiles,” making it easier to design a chip with many cores. According to Intel, its discovery of new and robust materials to build future transistors and no immediate end in sight for Moore’s Law, this lays a path to manufacture multi-core processors with billions of transistors more efficiently in the future.

The Teraflops chip also features a mesh-like “network-on-a-chip” architecture that allows super-high bandwidth communications between the cores and is capable of moving Terabits of data per second inside the chip. The research also investigated methods to power cores on and off independently, so only the ones needed to complete a task are used, thus providing more energy efficiency.

Further Tera-scale research will focus on the addition of 3-D stacked memory to the chip as well as developing more sophisticated research prototypes with many general-purpose Intel Architecture-based cores.

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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