Intel's 48-core concept chip

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I always liked the annual Detroit ritual of the concept car. I even like the name — “concept car.” Even if we never see anything that even remotely resembles these things in the showroom, it’s still cool to think that someone got the freedom to think really big.

And so I’m sympathetic to Intel’s concept chips. Two years ago it was the TFLOPS chip, and this week its Intel’s 48-core prototype. According to the press page, Intel is using the platform to study on-chip communication and scaling models for its future production units.

48 core chipResearchers from Intel Labs demonstrated an experimental, 48-core Intel processor, or “single-chip cloud computer,” that rethinks many of the approaches used in today’s designs for laptops, PCs and servers. This futuristic chip boasts about 10 to 20 times the processing engines inside today’s most popular Intel® Core™-branded processors.

…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, or at 125 watts when running at maximum performance (about as much as today’s Intel processors and just two standard household light bulbs).

Intel plans to seed about 100 of these chips into commercial and academic research efforts next year to get the ball rolling.

Programming processors with multiple cores is a well-known challenge for the industry as computer and software makers move toward many-cores on a single silicon chip. The prototype allows popular and efficient parallel programming approaches used in cloud datacenter software to be applied on the chip. Researchers from Intel, HP and Yahoo’s Open Cirrus collaboration have already begun porting cloud applications to this 48 IA core chip using Hadoop, a Java software framework supporting data-intensive, distributed applications as demonstrated by Rattner today.

Note that I am pointedly ignoring the lame decision to talk about this as a “single chip cloud computer.” Pointedly. Ignoring.