Intel Lifts the Hood on its "Single-Chip Cloud Computer"

A 48-core prototype processor is part of a move from supercomputer-on-a-chip to data-center-on-a-chip

3 min read

9 February 2010—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.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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