Intel researchers have built an 80-core chip that performs more than a teraflops (trillions of floating point operations per second) while using less electricity than a modern desktop PC chip.
First described by Intel executives at a September trade show, the chip fits 80 cores onto a 275-square millimetre, fingernail-size chip and draws only 62 watts of power – less than many modern desktop chips.
Following its march from standard processors to dual-core and quad-core designs in 2006, the company has no plans to bring this "teraflops research chip" to market, but is using it to test new technologies such as high-bandwidth interconnects, energy management techniques, and a tile design method to build multicore chips, said Jerry Bautista, director of Intel's tera-scale research programme prior to appearing to presenting technical details of the research at the Integrated Solid State Circuits conference (ISSCC) trade show in San Francisco.
Intel engineers are also using the chip to explore new forms of tera-scale computing, in which future users could process terabytes of data on their desktops to perform real-time speech recognition, multimedia data mining, photo-realistic gaming and artificial intelligence.
Until now, that degree of computing performance has been available only to scientists and academics using machines like ASCI Red, the teraflops supercomputer built by Intel and its partners in 1996 for US government researchers at Sandia National Labs. That system handled a comparable amount of computing as the new chip, but demanded an enormous 500 kilowatts of power and 500 kilowatts of cooling to run its nearly 10,000 Pentium Pro chips.
Shrunk onto a single chip, that power would allow average consumers to use their PCs in new ways. They could use improved search functions on the vast amounts of digital media stored on home desktops, searching large photo archives for specific attributes such as all the shots where a certain person is smiling, or where that person is posing with a friend, Bautista said.