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Intel tips plan for 50-core processor

June 14, 2010 // Peter Clarke and Dylan McGrath

Intel tips plan for 50-core processor

One day after Nvidia's Tesla chips helped China's Nebulae supercomputer land second place on the Top 500 list, Intel announced plans for many-core processors targeting high-end computing.

Intel said its so-called Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture would help accelerate some highly parallel applications but that its Xeon chips would remain the suitable choice for most server workloads. The MIC architecture is derived from several Intel projects, including Intel's abandoned Larrabee graphics chip and such Intel Labs research projects as the 48-core Single-chip Cloud Computer.

The first MIC chip out the chute will be Knight's Corner, a 50-core chip designed in a 22-nanometer process, Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's data center group, told an audience at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany. The chip targets high-performance computing segments such as scientific research and financial or climate simulations.

Intel will field developer tools later this year for the MIC architecture. The tools and associated optimization techniques will work with both Xeon and MIC processors and will support diverse programming models.

"The CERN Openlab team was able to migrate a complex C++ parallel benchmark to the Intel MIC software development platform in just a few days," Sverre Jarp, CTO of CERN Openlab, said in a statement issued by Intel. "The familiar hardware programming model allowed us to get the software running much faster than expected."

Analysts said Intel made the right call by canceling Larrabee. "The graphics part turns out to be a distraction," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.). "The market for high-performance discrete GPUs is very narrow, and by any measure it is shrinking. Why would Intel spend a lot of money to target a market like that?"

Brookwood noted that even ATI Technologies, the graphics chip unit of AMD, has backed away from building high-end graphics processors. ATI has been targeting the midrange graphics market and serving the high end with multiple GPUs hooked together, he said.

Only Nvidia is still trying to build "the most humongous GPUs," Brookwood said; that's "one of the reasons they have struggled" over the past 18 months.

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