Intel Scales Up the Stakes with Multicore Chip Strategy

Intel researchers are changing the way they look at multicore chips with an elaborate plan to boost performance, dubbed Tera-Scale.

SAN FRANCISCO—Intel is assembling the building blocks for a radically different chip architecture that could arrive by the end of the decade.

Although the chip giant officially announced its Core Microarchitecture at its spring Developer Forum, here, researchers at the company have already been working on a potential follow-on that will be capable of harboring tens of cores, far more than the Core Microarchitecture and its predecessor, which is already in development at the moment, Intel executives said.

Driving the new research is the fact that, within six to eight years, Intel will be able to produce chips that will have between 16 billion and 32 billion transistors, versus a maximum of 2 billion now, based on the Moores Law tenent that states the number of transistors inside chips double every two years.

Given the immense increase expected, Intels researchers are changing the way they look at chip design, introducing a program they call Tera-Scale Computing.

Tera-Scale Computing, at its heart, strives to shift from smaller numbers of complex processor cores to a battalion of simple, general-purpose processor cores and backing those cores up with more specialized cores for jobs such as encryption.

"Its a radical change across both the capabilities it could provide to users—either consumers or corporate users—because now youre taking about teraflop operations delivered to each person," said Jeff McVeigh, technical assistant to Intel CTO Justin Rattner, in Hillsboro, Ore. "It gets down to enabling platforms to take on more human line capabilities."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intels spring Developer Forum.

The work is a departure from the companys Core Microarchitecture, which focuses on getting as much work done as possible per clock cycle within two or four cores and uses a good deal of parallelism or breaking up jobs to process them more quickly.

But, instead of focusing on ways to wedge more powerful copies of its current style processor cores into a single chip, Intels Tera-Scale Computing research project focuses on creating large numbers of smaller, simpler cores which it can augment, on chip, with more specialized cores capable of handling complex jobs such as cryptography.

Tera-Scale chips would have enough power to improve tasks involving recognition, data mining and synthesis, boosting the performance of text or video search and features like speech recognition by adding predictive capabilities to computers.

Meanwhile, the chips might make more immersive learning and virtual meeting software would be made possible as well.

"All those pieces are the capabilities that this kind of computing power would enable," McVeigh said. "We view it as very important and were putting in the effort to make sure it happens."

That said, McVeigh stressed the project is still in the research stages and declined to say whether it would even make it into products.

/zimages/1/28571.gifHow does Intel keeps its enterprise customers coming back for more? Click here to read analyst Roger Kays answer.

Intel research labs tend to focus on technology thats between five and 10 years in the future. The labs bring projects to the proof of concept level—basically proving they can be used—but then Intel product groups must decide whether or not to incorporate them into the companys products.

The Tera-Scale project is unique in many ways, however, and points to a higher-than-normal level of importance to the company.

Whereas individual research projects tend to get code-names, the effort, unveiled at a pre-IDF Intel Research briefing, essentially has its own brand name.

Next Page: Pouring resources into Tera-Scale.