Indian Hand in Intel's 48-Core Processor

by Manu Sharma    Dec 16, 2009

Intel Labs has demonstrated an experiential, 48-core Intel processor or single-chip cloud computer that rethinks many of the approaches used in designing laptops, PCs and servers. Intel Labs, Bangalore office has contributed significantly by helping in designing the research prototype successfully.

Senior engineering manager at Intel Labs Vasantha Erraguntla, said, "The single-chip cloud computer was designed as a concept vehicle for parallel software research. It took us about two years and the contribution has been equally split among the other two centres as well."

The Intel chip was co-created by Intel Labs in Hillsboro in US and Braunschweig in Germany besides Bangalore. "In total about 40-45 engineers worked on this project and 15 of them worked from the Bangalore office."

This futuristic chip boasts about 10 to 20 times the processing engines inside today’s most popular Intel core-branded processors. The complexity of this chip is multi-fold, with a much larger die size, system level complexities and challenges of 45nm physical design.

The long-term research goal is to add incredible scaling features to future computers that spur entirely new software applications and human-machine interfaces. The company plans to engage industry and academia next year by sharing 100 or more of these experimental chips for hands-on research in developing new software applications and programming models. "We are talking to several research labs and universities in India as well," said Erraguntla.

While Intel will integrate key features in a new line of core-branded chips early next year and introduce six- and eight-core processors later in 2010, this prototype contains 48 fully programmable Intel processing cores, the most ever on a single silicon chip. It also includes a high-speed on-chip network for sharing information along with newly invented power management techniques that allow all 48 cores to operate extremely energy efficiently at as little as 25 watts when idle, or at 125 watts when running at maximum performance.

For example, future laptops with processing capability of this magnitude could have vision in the same way a human can see objects and motion as it happens and with high accuracy. Someday interacting with a computer for a virtual dance lesson or on-line shopping that uses a future laptop’s 3-D camera and display to show you a mirror of yourself wearing the clothes you are interested in.  Twirl and turn and watch how the fabric drapes and how the colour complements your skin tone.

"This kind of interaction could eliminate the need of keyboards, remote controls or joysticks for gaming. Some researchers believe computers may even be able to read brain waves, so simply thinking about a command, such as dictating words, would happen without speaking," she said.

Intel Labs has nicknamed this test chip a "single-chip cloud computer" because it resembles the organization of datacenters used to create a cloud of computing resources over the Internet, a notion of delivering such services as online banking, social networking and online stores to millions of users.

Justin Rattner, head of Intel Labs and Intel’s chief technology officer said, "With a chip like this, you could imagine a cloud datacenter of the future which will be an order of magnitude more energy efficient than what exists today, saving significant resources on space and power costs."