Multiprocessing isn’t new. Two or tens of processors have been hitched up in research facilities and server farms for decades. But replicating cores on a single piece of silicon is a fairly new phenomenon. These multicore processors aren’t just the odd anomaly, and not a mere trend, but in late 2010 multicore has turned into a movement – a full-fledged 1960’s Arlo Guthrie society-changing movement.
The last year has seen essentially every major processor company add or expand multicore processors in their repertoire. A few are improved versions of earlier dual cores while others are fresh new multiple-births. Why are there so many multicore offerings now? The simple answer is that to stay on the performance treadmill that Moore’s Law so aptly described, multicore is the only viable option. But there are different approaches within the multicore movement, and many have been utilized for years for a more delicate operation, perhaps right in your pocket.
Multicore is upon us
Any system designer that thinks multicore is out of his realm just isn’t paying enough attention. Like peace, liberation, civil rights, and (yes) saving the Earth in the ’60’s, almost imperceptibly, ideas took shape, action was taken in small pockets, and before you knew it, widespread change – a real movement – had actually taken hold and was showing results. Look up and you’ll notice multicore processors are all around.
Indeed, a fevered pitch is coming from chip and intellectual property (IP) vendors alike as they scramble to proclaim more, newer, better, and faster multicores than the other guy. The traditional modest performers that focus first on battery life are utilizing multiple cores to reach performance levels high enough to be real threats to entry markets of the powerhouses. The typical “big iron” frequency chasers are using multiple cores to reign in the heat they’ve been generating to keep the low-power challengers at bay yet be able to keep the server farms pumping out ever-more search results, Web pages, and video feeds.
Just Monday, MIPS Technologies revealed a new multicore IP offering that extends the 1004K Coherent multi-processing family to what is now called the 1074K Coherent Processing System. These old hands at multiprocessing are offering up to four MIPS32 74K cores in a coherent synthesizable platform that can run 15,000 Coremarks at 1.5 GHz on a 40 nm process and probably up to 2.5 GHz when carefully crafted at 28 nm. MIPS believes that just three of their cores fit in the same die area of an equivalent Intel Atom core yet can run 2.5x faster. The 1074K is essentially available for licensing now so a vendor or OEM can start building a chip around one immediately. MIPS expects the 1074K to invigorate its position in set-top box (STB), digital TV, Blu-ray players and home/office networking products, enhancing the linkage to networks and the Internet.
The industry has its own Octo-Mom now with Intel flashing fuzzy images earlier this month of an 8-core outgrowth of its current quad-core Xeon processors that will have a birth date in 2011. Such behemoths and three-headed monsters from AMD are designed for server farms, high-performance computing (HPC) applications, and maybe some networking applications that can consume all the performance they can get.