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Intel Lifts the Hood on its “Single-Chip Cloud Computer”

Chips that can simulate a supernova or predict a hurricane are yesterday’s goal, if Intel’s recently unveiled 48-core research chip is any indication. Today’s goal is squeezing all the simple but extensive work of a data center onto a single chip. Big IT firms have huge, sophisticated networks of servers, says Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs. But ”they’re not computing the mass of a proton,” he says. ”They’re searching for the needle in a haystack.”

In response to the need for better, faster data mining, Intel Labs has developed what it’s calling a single-chip cloud computer. The 1.3-billion-transistor research chip, the company reported yesterday at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference, consists of 48 Pentium-class IA-32 cores formed into a network of 24 tiles. Each tile has two cores plus one router to allow intercore communication. The keys to its efficiency at handling needle-in-a-haystack-type tasks are two new software-based techniques: one for rapidly transferring data between its many cores and the other for controlling the power those cores consume.

Normally, for data to get from one core to another, it must leave the first core, zip over to main memory, and then make its way to the second core, says Intel’s Jason Howard, who authored the paper presented at ISSCC, in San Francisco. That process takes time, so the Intel researchers set up each core with the ability to transfer data directly. A 16-kilobyte message-passing buffer on each tile (384 KB total on die) transfers data from one core’s cache to another’s without running the data all the way out to main memory. Continue reading.

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