Intel last week demonstrated a working processor with 80 individual processing cores. Each core, or "tile" as Intel calls them, consists of a compute element and a router that allows each tile to connect to its neighbor. The chip can deliver more than 1 trillion floating point operations per second (teraflops), depending on how fast it's running. This is only a research project right now, as there are a lot of challenges involved in making an 80-core chip that's a practical option for PCs and servers.
Intel demonstrated the teraflop research chip in a briefing for reporters last week at a San Francisco hotel. It built a special cooling system for the chip and ran a few applications to demonstrate its performance. Intel had the chip running at around 3GHz during the demonstration, but has gotten it to run faster in its Oregon labs with a water-cooled system, said CTO Justin Rattner.
This is how Intel demonstrated the chip for reporters. Several power supplies were required, and Intel also needed to build a special motherboard. Engineers showed how Intel can obtain different levels of performance by tweaking the chips' clock speed and voltage supply while running an application that solved complex mathematical equations.
Vara says the 80-core chip uses less than 100 watts of energy; a dual-core chip uses 60 to 70 watts and a quad-core uses 105 to 130 watts. Of course the numbers for the 80-core chip could be affected by the fact that it's lacking some functionality, but Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, says it's still a significant accomplishment.
"We're quite literally creating a network mesh to let each little core communicate with the other cores and the rest of the system," says Vara. "The cores will want to know what the other cores will doing so they don't fight."
While it may take five to eight years to come out with a working 80-core chip, Vara says IT managers might start watching for what he calls "different flavors" of quad-core chips. "Maybe you'll have interim chips where they have more complex cores along with simpler cores, too."