SAN JOSE, Calif. Developers need to rewrite today's computer software to pave the way for tomorrow's multi-core processors that will use a variety of different cores, according to Advanced Micro Devices. The work involves a fundamental re-thinking of the current software stack, said an executive trying to rally support for the concept.
AMD has started talks with partners including Microsoft on its ideas. The company believes the work will ease the job of programming heterogeneous computer microprocessors such as its Fusion chips that will mix x86, graphics and other cores starting in 2009.
"We don't have a specific proposal, but we are out talking to partners about the concept and it is getting a lot of attention," said Chuck Moore, an AMD senior fellow who started working on the software initiative full time in mid-December.
"Over the next few months or quarters, I think we will sharpen our views and put out a proposal—and perhaps a consortium behind it," said Moore, chief architect of AMD's accelerated computing initiative. "It's not just an AMD thing. It's an open system, and lets other players innovate at different layers," he added.
AMD believes computer software needs to be re-defined in an open way much as the Open Systems Interconnection stack re-defined networking software in the late 1970's. By putting in place new levels of abstraction, the industry could let applications developers write parallel programs without needing to know the details of every multi-core processor.
In AMD's view, the new computer stack could include an expanded set of run-time environments above the operating system. They could help find, schedule, synchronize and manage chip-level resources for applications programmers. Below the operating system, virtualization software could be extended to better track and correct programming errors.
The moves are designed to tackle the growing need for a parallel programming model as the number and types of cores on a CPU rise.
"The industry is in a little bit of a panic about how to program multi-core processors, especially heterogeneous ones," said Moore. To make effective use of multi-core hardware today you need a PhD in computer science. That can't continue if we want to enable heterogeneous CPUs," he said.
Both AMD and Intel said they will ship processors that put x86 and graphics cores on the same die, probably starting in 2009. An AMD spokesman said the company will announce a number of different accelerator cores in the future.
Further in the future, PC processors are likely to use a wider variety of memory types as well. They may also use stacking technologies to create more complex system-on-chip designs, Moore added.