February 11, 2007 12:00 PM PST

Intel shows off 80-core processor

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Intel has built its 80-core processor as part of a research project, but don't expect it to boost your Doom score just yet.

Chief Technical Officer Justin Rattner demonstrated the processor in San Francisco last week for a group of reporters, and the company will present a paper on the project during the International Solid State Circuits Conference in the city this week.

The chip is capable of producing 1 trillion floating-point operations per second, known as a teraflop. That's a level of performance that required 2,500 square feet of large computers a decade ago.

Intel first disclosed it had built a prototype 80-core processor during last fall's Intel Developer Forum, when CEO Paul Otellini promised to deliver the chip within five years. The company's researchers have several hurdles to overcome before PCs and servers come with 80-core processors--such as how to connect the chip to memory and how to teach software developers to write programs for it--but the research chip is an important step, Rattner said.


A company called ClearSpeed has put 96 cores on a single chip. ClearSpeed's chips are used as co-processors with supercomputers that require a powerful chip for a very specific purpose.

Intel's research chip has 80 cores, or "tiles," Rattner said. Each tile has a computing element and a router, allowing it to crunch data individually and transport that data to neighboring tiles.

Intel used 100 million transistors on the chip, which measures 275 millimeters squared. By comparison, its Core 2 Duo chip uses 291 million transistors and measures 143 millimeters squared. The chip was built using Intel's 65-nanometer manufacturing technology, but any likely product based on the design would probably use a future process based on smaller transistors. A chip the size of the current research chip is likely too large for cost-effective manufacturing.

The computing elements are very basic and do not use the x86 instruction set used by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices' chips, which means Windows Vista can't be run on the research chip. Instead, the chip uses a VLIW (very long instruction word) architecture, a simpler approach to computing than the x86 instruction set.

There's also no way at present to connect this chip to memory. Intel is working on a stacked memory chip that it could place on top of the research chip, and it's talking to memory companies about next-generation designs for memory chips, Rattner said.

Intel's researchers will then have to figure out how to create general-purpose processing cores that can handle the wide variety of applications in the world. The company is still looking at a five-year timeframe for product delivery, Rattner said.

But the primary challenge for an 80-core chip will be figuring out how to write software that can take advantage of all that horsepower. The PC software community is just starting to get its hands around multicore programming, although its server counterparts are a little further ahead. Still, Microsoft, Apple and the Linux community have a long way to go before they'll be able to effectively utilize 80 individual processing units with their PC operating systems.

"The operating system has the most control over the CPU, and it's got to change," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat. "It has to be more intelligent about breaking things up," he said, referring to how tasks are divided among multiple processing cores.

"I think we're sort of all moving forward here together," Rattner said. "As the core count grows and people get the skills to use them effectively, these applications will come." Intel hopes to make it easier by training its army of software developers on creating tools and libraries, he said.

Intel demonstrated the chip running an application created for solving differential equations. At 3.16GHz and with 0.95 volts applied to the processor, it can hit 1 teraflop of performance while consuming 62 watts of power. Intel constructed a special motherboard and cooling system for the demonstration in a San Francisco hotel.

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Posted by mrorie (81 comments )
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Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
multi threads
Apple will shortly make it quite a bit easier and more systematic for
programmers to incorporate multiple threads into their
applications. There will, of course, be applications which aren't
easily put into multi-threaded form, so it will not be easy for all
apps to take advantage of multicore processors.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Multithreaded Applications
That's the general problem in software. But you can thank Microsoft and Sony more than Intel or Apple for pushing multiple core programming design into the world. Both the X-Box 360 and PS3 use multiple core systems. In order for game developers to get the "next big title" in way of high end graphics and lots of action they do need to use all of the cores.

Your common applications like Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer (Firefox too, if you prefer) do not need to take immediate advantage of multiple cores. Their benefit from a dual or quad core system is that they get a chunk of CPU that is not being used by another single thread/core application. The drive to improve performance here is not at the application level until you hit some high end software such as AutoCAD or Photoshop.

Think of how long it takes your MS Word program on Windows XP with any dual core CPU to open a document, spell check that document and then print it in the highest quality. Now think of how long it took the comparable software on Windows 95 and a Pentium II (single core in case you forgot) to complete the same steps. The difference is barely noticeable.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
How? They don't have ...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/</a>

So Apple will have to OEM it in order for your statement to be even close to reality... :-)
Posted by EmilioB (9 comments )
Link Flag
I'm glad Apple is finally thinking seriously about threads.
Considering the poor threading performance they have now...
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
Good Thing Intel Has Partnered with Sun
It is a good thing Intel and Sun announced their partnership recently. Solaris will have no problem scaling to 80 cores it has been scaling past 64 CPUs for almost 10 years now (and 144 CPUs for the past 2 or 3).
Posted by fitzgm3 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Processors are different from cores
Processors have dedicated support components like cache and memory controllers, while multi-core processors have to share these items.
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Link Flag
The Sunfire servers are a joke, merely Sun's weak attempt at multi CPU, a remake of Cray's CS6400 - Cray built with SPARC chips.

It took sun years to figure out how to increase the bandwidth on the xbar switch, without increasing latency into the seconds realm.

IBM's Deep Blue series can utilize way more procs than any Sun system.

SGI has systems off the shelf that will scale out to THOUSANDS of processors under 1 system image. Internal system bandwidth eclipses any other system, past or present. Latency sometimes measured in nanoseconds. SGI are the highest performing, lowest latency, most secure and innovative platforms out there.

Sun didn't invent MCM (multichip modules), that work was pioneered on Gallium Arsenide wafers by Cray &#38; IBM. Intel is a late entrant to the multi core systems. But, with Intel's volume, they will have shipped way more ncore chips than anyone else.

Have you ever even touched a Sun machine?
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Link Flag
Gold mine for microsoft
80 cores, a copy of Windows is only good for 2 cores. That means you would need to buy 40 copies of Windows to get the full functionality from the cores. At approximately $250 per copy, that would be $10,000.00 just for the OS.
Posted by GrandpaN1947 (187 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS currently charges by the socket, while most of the other bigs (IBM, Oracle, etc) count cores.
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Link Flag
No MS Products for this yet...
First of all there are no copies of Windows that will run on this processor or even any processor based on the same instruction set with fewer cores.

Secondly you will not buy the OS, you will buy CPU licenses if Microsoft decided to charge by the core count which they currently charge by the CPU. All 80 cores of this are one CPU. The current quad cores are working with Windows without having to buy two licenses (one for each pair of cores as you stated).

Lastly, it will be a while before we see any main stream desktop or server applications that use this. The most likely place for this single CPU is in very specialized research. That is much like what it is doing over the next 5 years in allowing Intel to study very dense core capacity.

This is intended to be a super computer, not a desktop computer. It will help Intel develop the future of commodity desktop and server computing which will require the use of non X86 instruction sets to get the most bang for your buck.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Great opportunity for Linux
It will take a huge push to make MS compatible and advantageous with multi-core. Look how long it takes just to put a middling upgrade like Vista on the shelves. Linux could probably achieve better results much more quickly porting the OS to multi-core - and of course no matter how many cores you have, free is still free.
Posted by ArtInvent (374 comments )
Link Flag
Just goes to show....
that our puter life will be in a constant state of flux forever.....just as it has been from the gitgo. I do remember my first computer and the salesguy telling me that I would probably not need the optional 20MB hard drive or a processor larger than a 286 even though the 386 was being developed. Then I bought Kings Quest 1 and it used most of that real estate. At the time my mom had been playing with a Texas Instruments machine using a cassette tape as data storage and trying to play primitive pong games and then upgraded to a IBM with an 8086 processor and was trying to run AOL 1.0 . So,the lesson is: hang onto your seats my friends.
Posted by momule (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You Betcha
Games push hardware development.
Porn pushes internet development.

That seems to be the way of our obsession. It's not surprising that a game convinced you to upgrade to the 386. Heck, a game is convincing me to upgrade now.

For me, it was the Coleco Adam that started this whole mess. After wearing out the Adam, I was hooked and lived the evolution from then on.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Solaris EatsThreads for Breaskfast
Why no mention of it in your article when referring to operating systems? Unlike Windows, OS 10 and Linux (which you do mention) Solaris does a great job of passing instructions to multiple cores.

A mention at least seems appropriate especially given Intel's recent Solaris deal with Sun.
Posted by BreakfastThreads (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Solaris isn't well known still...
You have to keep in mind the target audience. Just look at the comments about running Windows on this CPU which would be impossible to accomplish at this time. Hopefully Intel and Sun will work on making that next hybrid OS Multi-Core system together and we'll see Solaris on those 80 core monsters when they go commercial.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Each malware/spyware app gets it's own core
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
that's not enough for MS
You virtually mean that there's only 79 malware can be running at a time. Come on, that's just not enough for future Windows.
Posted by cshsieh (9 comments )
Link Flag

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mortgage.emigrantas.com" target="_newWindow">http://mortgage.emigrantas.com</a> - mortgage blog
Posted by darix2005 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Software Radio OS
it strikes me that the (JTRS) SCA type Operating System is
processor/core agnostic and likes a heterogenous processing
environment. I think these Software Radio Operating Systems are
quite likely to hit the desktop in 2009+ on this sort of multi-core
CPU! (also check out the Intel "Larrabee" CGPU!) I'll have to brush
up on my Corba and Dcom and Core Framework , maybe tryout
FreeRTOS or Integrity on one of the Intel systems?
Posted by cyclotron--2008 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Software for terascale computing: Take One
Pervasive DataRush can't wait for the 80-core chip to be ready for ISV testing !!

Get ready. Start learning hyper-parallel application development NOW:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/</a>
Posted by EmilioB (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, an scaling OLTP way different than...
...scaling data processing applications.

It's time for <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pervasivedatarush.com/</a> to hit Sun's lineup.

Gee, I wonder what 200,000,000 lines of single-threaded COBOL code will do on a terascale chip ?? Answer: Nothing more than 1 core.
Posted by EmilioB (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silly git..
A true relational engine can take advantage of this today. Can you say vcpu?
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
Link Flag
Forget "Doom"... it'd be my personal render farm!
...It would be hella nice to be able to take an animation render job (or even a still carved into sectors) and let each core chew away on it's bit of the final CG artwork... Instead of waiting a zillion minutes for a average high-end render, you could rack it out in seconds (or perhaps even show the final raytrace and render in real-time, right there...

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Forget "Doom"... it'd be my personal render farm!
I thought the same thing as you did when I first saw this headline. It makes my mind wonder what Industrial Light and Magic and Pixar could do with a few of these frame crunchers.

Posted by jhustead (1 comment )
Link Flag
Here comes the licensing fees
Let's see, $200/processor for Windows=$16,000 I guess they'll need a different model for licensing as well...
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
core != processor
nuff said.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
I have heard a lot of back and forth on this talkback today, but...

This processor is amazing and the Intel engineers deserve recognition for such work. If Intel continues AMD will be of little threat in 5 years time.

Amd, get to work and show us all something so cool it will blow our minds (read: 100 Terra Flop CPU)....
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have been talking about multi-core licensing for a while
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/37432.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/37432.html</a>
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have been talking about multi-core licensing for a while
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/37432.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/37432.html</a>
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It won't be...
a zillion times faster... c'mon! It's got only 80 cores! Even if each core is a bit faster than the market leading cores why do you think the scale up would be better than 80? :)
Posted by genotypewriter (99 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hmmmm since this thing is in theroy 20x faster than the current quad cores with that much processing power would you even need a gpu if it was flexable enough to process such instructions?
Posted by MyInsight (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I want to think of the computers in the future like a
huge super computer much like google search machine
and ordinary users can log on to it and work in virtual machine in this super ultimate-computer
there can be environment for user - games, word, e-mail - communicating skype-like software.
there will be no headache with processors, storage, os - it is all separated from the users and organisations and intel and other emc2 company are only accountable for that. Linux can be seen
as pro-supermega-ultimate OS for that computer.
thenks if you read it all!
Posted by pehks (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
NVIDIA's 3D Graphics.... INTEL's 80 Core Processor... Hell yeah!!! The next generation of gamers will be playing on a board that makes you feel inside the game (Jason X's virtual reality is coming close to being a reality!!!!)
Posted by Mikus01 (1 comment )
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