Era of Tera

Intel researchers have developed the world’s first programmable processor that delivers supercomputer-like performance from a single, 80-core chip.

This is the result of the company’s “Tera-scale computing” research aimed at delivering Teraflops – or trillions of calculations per second – performance for future PCs and servers.

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.

Intel has no plans to bring this exact chip designed with floating point cores to market. However, the company’s Tera-scale research is instrumental in investigating 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. This Teraflops research chip offered specific insights in new silicon design methodologies, high-bandwidth interconnects and energy management approaches.

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.

Also remarkable is that this 80-core research chip achieves a Teraflops of performance while consuming only 62 watts – less than many single-core processors today.

The chip features an tile design in which smaller cores are replicated as “tiles,” making it easier to design a chip with many cores.

The Teraflops chip also features a mesh-like “network-on-a-chip” architecture that allows 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. Today, the Intel Tera-scale Computing Research Program has more than 100 projects underway that explore other architectural, software and system design challenges.