[Beowulf] Tilera targets Intel, AMD with 100-core processor

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Oct 26 04:26:33 PDT 2009


Tilera targets Intel, AMD with 100-core processor

Tilera hopes its new chips either replace or work alongside chips from Intel
and AMD

Agam Shah (IDG News Service) 26/10/2009 15:07:00

Tags: Intel, CPUs, amd

Tilera on Monday announced new general-purpose CPUs, including a 100-core
chip, as it tries to make its way into the server market dominated by Intel
and Advanced Micro Devices.

The two-year-old startup's Tile-GX series of chips are targeted at servers
and appliances that execute Web-related functions such as indexing, Web
search and video search, said Anant Agarwal, cofounder and chief technology
officer of Tilera, which is based in San Jose, California. The chips have the
attributes of a general-purpose CPU as they can run the Linux OS and other
applications commonly used to serve Web data.

"You can run us as an adjunct to something else, though the intent is to be
able to run it stand-alone," Agarwal said. The chips could serve as
co-processors alongside x86 chips, or potentially replace the chips in
appliances and servers.

Chip makers are continuously adding cores as a way to boost application
performance. Most x86 server chips today come with either four or six cores,
but Intel is set to release the Nehalem-EX chip, an x86 microprocessor with
eight cores. AMD will shortly follow with a 12-core Opteron chip code-named
Magny Cours. Graphics processors from companies like AMD and Nvidia include
hundreds of cores to run high-performance applications, though the chips are
making their way into PCs.

The Gx100 100-core chip will draw close to 55 watts of power at maximum
performance, Agarwal said. The 16-core chip will draw as little as 5 watts of

Tilera's chips have an advantage in performance-per watt compared to x86
chips, but some will be skeptical as the chips are not yet established, said
Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts.

"I don't think an average person is going to run out to buy a computer with
Tilera in it," Strauss said. Intel has the advantage of being an incumbent,
and even if Tilera offered something comparable to Intel's chips, it would
take years to catch up.

But to start, Tilera is focusing the chips on specific applications that can
scale in performance across a large number of cores. It has ported certain
Linux applications commonly used in servers, like the Apache Web server,
MySQL database and Memcached caching software, to the Tilera architecture.

"The reason we have target markets is not because of any technological
limitations or other stuff in the chip. It is simply because, you know, you
have to market your processor [to a] target audience. As a small company we
can't boil the ocean," Agarwal said.

The company's strategy is to go after lucrative markets where
parallel-processing capability has a quick payout, Strauss said. Tilera could
expand beyond the Web space to other markets where low-power chips are

It helps that applications can be programmed in C as with an Intel processor,
but programmers are needed to write and port the applications, Strauss said.
"How easy is it to port Windows or Linux also remains to be seen," he said.

Applications like Apache and MySQL already run on x86 chips and can be ported
to run on Tilera chips, company executives said. In a co-processor
environment, x86 processors will run legacy applications, while the Tilera
will do the Web-specific applications, he said.

"As a smaller company, we can focus in on a couple of applications, drive
those, and over time as we grow, we can expand," said Bob Doud, director of
marketing at Tilera. The company didn't talk about the markets it would like
to go into in the future.

However, industry analysts say that application performance either levels off
or even deteriorates as more cores are added to chips. Part of the
performance relies on how the cores are assembled, said Agarwal, who is also
a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For faster data exchange, Tilera has organized parallelized cores in a square
with multiple points to receive and transfer data. Each core has a switch for
faster data exchange. Chips from Intel and AMD rely on crossbars, but as the
number of cores expands, the design could potentially cause a gridlock that
could lead to bandwidth issues, he said.

"You can have three or four streets coming in but ... it's hard to imagine 30
streets coming into an intersection," Agarwal said. The mesh architecture
used in Tilera chips is expandable as the square gets bigger, he said.

In addition to additional cores, the new Tilera chips include many upgrades
from their predecessors. The chips are speedier, running at up to 1.5GHz,
with support for 64-bit processing. The chips will be made using the
40-nanometer process, which make them smaller and more power-efficient.
Earlier chips were made using the 90-nm process. The chips will start
shipping next year, with the 100-core chip scheduled to ship in early 2011.
Volume pricing for the chips will range from US$400 to $1,000. 

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