Intel Continues to Work on Tera-Scale Chips

While the technology remains a research vehicle, features will show in future chips.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.-While Intel still has no current plans to bring its tera-scale processors into the commercial market, some of the technologies that the company's research teams have been developing for an 80-core processor might appear within the next two years.

At Intel's Research Day here, Jerry Bautista, director of technology management for Intel's Microprocessor Research Laboratory, described the ways his researchers are working to bring some of the developments of the company's tera-scale project into future generations of Intel chips.

Intel first detailed its prototype tera-scale processor, running at 3.16GHz and offering a teraflop-or 1 trillion calculations per second-of performance, in late 2006 and early 2007. While the company has no formal plans to bring this type of chip into the commercial market, Bautista said the company's researchers are still testing the limits of what they created.

"We are still probing, learning, working," he told eWEEK. "Once we have a good research vehicle like that, we keep beating on it and trying different things, so that is still getting lots of work internally."

While an 80-core chip remains experimental, Bautista said some of the hardware and software technologies his research team has been developing will first appear in Intel's Larrabee processor.

Larrabee, which is scheduled for release in 2009 or 2010, will combine a CPU and a GPU (graphics processing unit) on a single piece of silicon and likely enter the high-performance computing market first before making its way into more mainstream computing. Advanced Micro Devices is also looking to combine an x86 CPU with a GPU in a project called Accelerated Computing.

One problem with these types of multicore processors, whether it's a future Xeon processor, Larrabee or the 80-core prototype, is development applications that can take advantage of all the processing cores.

To help bridge some of that gap, Bautista said the company has been taking applications meant for tera-scale computing, such as ray tracing-a way of developing by tracing a path of light through pixels-and facial recognition, and importing those into the SDK (software development kit) that the company is developing for Larrabee. The SDK will also allow programmers to debug applications in parallel environments and write code for multiple instructional threads.