Tilera developing chip with more than 100 cores

Tilera also announces a 72-core chip to fill the void of a cancelled 100-core chip

After a lull, the race to add more processor cores to chips continues. Tilera is developing a new chip that will have more than 100 processor cores as the company looks to outperform ARM and Intel processors in Web-specific tasks.

The chip is still being designed, but some features have been decided upon, said Bob Doud, director of processor strategy at Tilera. It will carry support for the latest DDR4 memory, while most chips today support DDR3 memory.

The chip will be manufactured using the 28-nanometer process, Doud said. However, he could not provide a release date for the chip as it was still being prototyped in the labs.

Tilera originally announced it was developing a 100-core chip in 2009, and then talked about a 100-core chip again in 2011, but no product was ever released. Instead, the company has now filled the void with a new 72-core chip, which was also announced on Tuesday.

Tilera's 72-core chip could be a general-purpose CPU for cloud computing, or could be used as a co-processor along with x86 chips for network processing, server load balancing and multimedia processing. These tasks can effectively scale across a large number of cores, Doud said.

The chip operates at between 1GHz and 1.2GHz, and the company declined to specify the exact amount of maximum power it consumes.

Tilera conceived the original 100-core processor just as the cloud was emerging, and the company was placing a bet that the chip would provide competition to the ubiquitous x86 server chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. The low-power features and support for Linux could make it a good general-purpose chip, but Tilera's direction changed as the market unfolded. The 100-core chip was "sexy," Doud said, but customer requirements were different.

"Customers were looking to fill out the portfolio downward rather than upward" in terms of the number of cores on a chip, Doud said.

The company is still not ready to preannounce an upcoming 100-core chip, but a new chip is being developed, Doud said. There's never a simple answer in figuring out how many cores, memory and I/O a customer wants, Doud said.

Intel and AMD over the past two years slowed down adding cores to server CPUs after a decadelong race to deliver more energy-efficient processing. Intel in 2010 introduced a 10-core server CPU, but has stopped adding cores, while AMD offers a 16-core chip. Chip makers partly backed away from adding more cores because of the inability to effectively break down tasks over multiple cores to scale performance.

Instead, companies are adding co-processors to boost performance. Intel offers a 60-core co-processor called Xeon Phi that competes with graphics co-processors, some of which come with more than 500 cores and are targeted for supercomputing.

Tilera already offers a 36-core chip, and the new 72-core chip effectively doubles the performance, Doud said. Test versions of the chip are now shipping to a few customers, and it will be commercially available by the end of the year.

Tilera's chips have a unique architecture with cores organized in a mesh form. The cores are connected through crossbars, and communicate with each other through multiple pathways to enable fast processing. The company claims its chips consume less power for specific tasks compared to rival processors.

Tilera's chips use integer processing units for multimedia processing. Unlike GPUs, Tilera's chips do not have floating point units, but can process specific video tasks more power-efficiently than some GPUs, Doud said.

The chip can slot into PCI-Express 2.0 slots, but also works with PCI-Express 3.0 with a separate component. The chip supports the OpenStack cloud OS and programming languages such as Java and C++.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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