Japanese researchers downplay super CPU effort

Alliance aims to create software standard for multicore chips in devices, including mobile phones and car navigation systems.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

A group of Japanese researchers are collaborating on a software standard for multicore processors to be used in a range of technology products, including mobile phones and in-vehicle navigation systems. The effort could lead to the development of a super CPU, according to the researchers.

First reported in Japanese publication Nikkei Business News early this month, the initiative involves local chipmakers and IT companies including Canon, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Panasonic and Renasas, a joint venture between Hitachi and Mitsubishi. It is supported by the Japanese government, which will be providing an initial capital of between 3 billion and 4 billion yen (US$33.3 million to US$44.4 million).

Hironori Kasahara, professor at Waseda University's department of computer science and lead designer for the project, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the project has been approved, by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (Nedo), to begin a one-year basic planning phase. Nedo is a funding agency under Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The grant also includes a three-year detailed research proposal, which involves research in multicore processor architectures, the development of a "parallelizing compiler with power reduction capabilities" and work on the API (application programming interface), Kasahara said.

"We are developing software de facto standard or API for multicore processors for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems, [such as those used in] automobiles," he explained. "Our targets are for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems like cell phones, digital television sets, car navigation systems, robotics and automobiles."

Contrary to earlier reports that suggest the super CPU project would challenge Intel, Kasahara noted that the targeted application areas were different from the American chipmaker's processors. In addition, there are no hardware standards involved, he pointed out.

When contacted, a Japan-based NEC spokesperson confirmed the company is participating in an API standardization project "using energy-saving software invented by Waseda University's professor Kasahara".

"NEC is simply aiming to advance unified standards among software technologies," the spokesperson added. "NEC is not, however, planning to develop a new CPU, as described in recent reports, which handles these latest technologies."

Kasahara added, however, that if the follow-up three-year proposal is accepted by the authorities, he would be looking to "develop a test chip by 2012 with one or two companies" tapping the parallelizing compiler and API.

In an e-mail interview, Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for compute platforms at iSuppli, said the initiative appears to point toward a primary focus on consumer embedded applications, with compute as potential applications at a later date. However, Wilkins said gaining entry to the mainstream server business would be "extremely difficult" if the CPU is not x86-compatible as the de facto operating systems, Linux and Windows, run on x86 architecture.

Nick Jacobs, group PR manager at Intel Asia-Pacific, said the chipmaker does not have details to announce in its processor roadmap that pertain specifically to solar technology. "[However, Intel] has been making significant inroads into power reduction for processors over the years", he said. As of August 2009, the company has invested over US$100 million in clean-tech startups globally.

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