Saturday, January 01, 2011

Scottish Scientist create 1000-core Processor on Single FPGA Chip

Scientist at the University of Glasgow made a 1,000 core FPGA (field programmable gate arrays) processor which is 20 times faster than current desktop processors. The team of scientist which led by Dr. Wim Vanderbauwhede, divided up the many millions of transistors into 1,000 different elements or mini-circuits, each of which are able to process their own instruction set. Currently no processors has more than 12 cores.

This prototype FPGA processor has apparently already shown 20x performance increase over conventional processors while using a fraction of the power.
In this development, the Scottish scientists have used a Xilinx field programmable gate array (FPGA). Specifically, Xilinx Virtex V4 was used in this design. By creating more than 1,000 mini-circuits within the FPGA chip, the researchers effectively turned the chip into a 1,000-core processor, each core working on its own instructions, writes Daily Mail. Also, the scientists claim that the 1000-core processor consumes far less power than modern processors.

The processor can process around 5 Gbytes of data per second, making it approximately 20 times faster than modern computers. Also, the scientists were able to obtain faster processing by giving each core a certain amount of dedicated memory. However, the report does not provide any details on the cores.

Dr. Wim Vanderbauwhede said, 'This is very early proof-of-concept work where we're trying to demonstrate a convenient way to program FPGAs so that their potential to provide very fast processing power could be used much more widely in future computing and electronics.” He added, “FPGAs are not used within standard computers because they are fairly difficult to program but their processing power is huge while their energy consumption is very small because they are so much quicker - so they are also a greener option.”

Vanderbauwhede continued, “While many existing technologies currently make use of FPGAs, including plasma and LCD televisions and computer network routers, their use in standard desktop computers is limited.” However, developers like Intel and ARM have already announced microchips that combine traditional CPUs with FPGAs. Hence, noted Vanderbauwhede, “I believe these kinds of processors will only become more common and help to speed up computers even further over the next few years.”

Intel on the other hand has been thinking about creating a 1,000 core processor for a while now, and already have a design in mind based on their prototype 48-core Single-chip Cloud Computer (SCC). There are still computational limiting factors however, such as Amdahl’s law, which is a mathematical approximation of the speedup resultant from splitting a program into parallel threads/processors.

If Intel does build upon its SSC-derived plans of building 1,000 core homogeneous multi-core central processing units, the question remains if this is actually the right approach to be taking. Modern GPUs already have thousands of processing elements, but so far can’t be efficiently used to solve massive problems or run operating systems. It’s for this reasons that AMD and Intel have been working on multi-core heterogeneous microprocessors instead – which will contain both x86 processing cores as well as high-performance stream-processors (and with AMD’s plans, even I/O controllers) – due to arrive only later this decade in the form of Bulldozer and Sandy Bridge server CPUs.

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