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A thousand processors on one chip

Based on technology from IBM, Rapport Inc. expects to deliver its Kilocore chips next year. Each chip will have 1,024 processors running at 125 MHz and handling 8 bits of data. The company says its chip will be 50 times more efficient as current chips for applications such as digital video delivered to cellphones.

More than a year ago, I told you that we'll soon be able to buy kilos of processors. Today, the New York Times reports that this should be possible by mid-2007 (free reg., permanent link). Based on technology licensed from Carnegie Mellon and processors from the Power line of IBM, Rapport Inc. expects to deliver its Kilocore chips next year. Each chip will have 1,024 processors running at 125 MHz and handling 8 bits of data. But this design is particularly well suited for applications such as digital video delivered to cellphones. The company says its chip will be 50 times more efficient as current chips for such applications.

Here is the first paragraph of the New York Times article.

I.B.M. plans to announce an alliance on Tuesday with a small Silicon Valley company that has designed a flexible microprocessor chip intended to perform tasks like video processing using less than a tenth the power of today's chips.

According to the company which designed this chip, Rapport Inc., the Kilocore technology will deliver "unprecedented performance to support simultaneous multiple functions at very low power". But let's return to John Markoff's article.

The Rapport technology, known as Kilocore, will initially be aimed at portable applications like digital video delivered to cellphones. According to Mr. Singer, [Rapport's CEO,] reconfigurable logic promises better energy efficiency, which has become a watchword in large computer data centers as well.

As you can see below, the Kilocore technology is very flexible. In particular, can be upgraded in the field via software (Credit: Rapport Incorporated).

The Kilocore technology

This technology is already at work and Rapport markets a chip with 256 processors using a design licensed from Carnegie Mellon.

That approach has permitted Rapport to create a chip with 256 computing elements that can be configured on the fly to adapt to different software problems. A follow-on version of the chip will have more than 1,000 computing elements and will contain a version of I.B.M.'s Power PC microprocessor.

But will it work and be really power efficient?

At a computing conference scheduled to begin in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, Rapport will demonstrate the chip processing a stream of video images. While a standard industry microprocessor chip, the ARM 7, can process 3.3 images a second while consuming half a watt of power, the new Rapport chip will convert 30 frames a second while consuming only 100 milliwatts, about one-fifth the power.

The company also compares its future chip with an Intel Pentium III running at 1.8 GHz -- a pretty old chip -- and says the Kilocore chip will be 3 times faster but will consumes 200 times less power.

Even if this new design is really power efficient and with the help of IBM, it remains to be seen if enough applications can be adapted to such a chip to become a success on the market. In particular, applications would need to be rewritten to take advantage of the architecture, and large companies don't particularly like this exercise.

Sources: John Markoff, The New York Times, April 4, 2006; and various web sites

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