18 December 2007

Many Core Future: Microsoft Wants In

Modern silicon processor chips will melt if driven too fast. How will Intel and AMD build more powerful processors if they are limited by clock speed? One answer is to build multiple simpler processors onto one chip--the many core future.
With the objective of continuing on the quest for a Moore's law type of computational speed-up, the hardware industry has introduced multi-core technology. This will, as recently demonstrated by Intel with their future-oriented 80-core chip, lead from a multi-core to a many-core future. Potentially down the road, assuming a continued trajectory, this could lead to the development of a massive core future whereby one chip could contain thousands of processing cores.

With this sea change in the architecture of the hardware, we are witnessing the software community wrestling with a massive shift from serial-based thinking to parallelism.
This is precisely the problem with multi/many/massive core computing. The software simply is not ready. But Microsoft wants to change that--and in the process gain back much of its dominance lost to more net-savvy companies such as Google.
Intel’s microprocessors were generating so much heat that they were melting, forcing Intel to change direction and try to add computing power by placing multiple smaller processors on a single chip.

Much like adding lanes on a freeway, the new strategy, now being widely adopted by the entire semiconductor industry, works only to the degree that more cars (or computing instructions) can be packed into each lane (or processor)....The chip industry has known about the hurdles involved in moving to parallel computing for four decades. One problem is that not all computing tasks can be split among processors.

To accelerate its parallel computing efforts, Microsoft has hired some of the best minds in the field and has set up teams to explore approaches to rewriting the company’s software.

If it succeeds, the effort could begin to change consumer computing in roughly three years. The most aggressive of the Microsoft planners believe that the new software, designed to take advantage of microprocessors now being refined by companies like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, could bring as much as a hundredfold computing speed-up in solving some problems.
IBM is another big player in the many-core evolution of computing. The stakes are high, given the qualitative change in computing that would result from hardware and software breakthroughs in managing parallel computing. "Supercomputer in a laptop" could be within reach.


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