Friday, 18 July 2008

Future multi-core processors?

So we know that the trend in microprocessor chips is multi-core; indeed Intel recently announced the release of their first quad core processors aimed specifically at mobile devices, and practically every PC that ships today contains dual core chips.  Well how about 116,640 cores?  The Los Alamos lab in the USA, birthplace of the atom bomb, has just announced experiments done on such a processor.  This machine (called Roadrunner) has allowed a new record of 1.144 petaFlops per second; even the unit of specification has had to change to make the numbers manageable!  Soon we will be measuring in exaFlops!  

The applications of Roadrunner disclosed so far (apart from the obvious military use because of where it originates from) have centred around modelling how the human brain processes complex visual scenes, that's more than a billion visual neurons.  However it is believed that the Roadrunner weighs over 220 tonnes and consumes more than three megawatts of power!   Not exactly ready for mobile devices as yet!   But it is clear about the trend.  The real challenge will be to educate and train the programmers (and build automated coding tools) to take advantage of such parallel processors.  Little current software is actually optimised for dual and quad core processors; when the hardware becomes available (as it will real fast), the software needs to be ready to take advantage of it.

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