Start-up sees 1,000 “brains” on one microchip

Posted: September 8, 2008 in 2007, Articles


By Duncan Martell

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Tilera Corp, a Silicon Valley semiconductor start-up, is launching a single microchip with 64 processing units, or cores, in a technological jump generations ahead of the mainstream.

In recent years, microprocessor makers such as Intel Corp (INTC.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) have had to grapple with ever-increasing amounts of power consumed as they cranked up the basic clock speed at which their chips worked.

Now, instead of ratcheting up how quickly the chip cycles, Intel, AMD and others are assembling multiple cores, or processing brains, on a single chip, which boosts performance while keeping down the consumption of electricity.

“You lay out these cores much like you do tiles on a floor,” said Anant Agarwal, Tilera founder and chief technology officer. “By 2014, you will see a 1,000-core chip coming out.”

Tilera, with $40 million in venture funding, will for now aim its chip at the advanced networking and digital multimedia space, Agarwal said. It has a dozen customers integrating its TILE64 processor into products in those markets.

What’s different about TILE64 is it does away with what’s called a bus, a sort of traffic cop that shunts data in and out of microprocessor cores. But when dealing with eight cores or more on a chip, bottlenecks can emerge and slow performance.

Tilera has replaced the on-chip bus interconnect with a communications switch on each processor core, arranging them in a grid fashion on the chip, much like a modern city’s grid.

The Santa Clara, California-based company, founded in 2004, says its chip delivers 10 times the performance and 30 times the performance-per-watt of an Intel dual-core Xeon chip.

“This has some very clear kinds of applications for which it will be very well suited,” said Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. “It stands a very good chance, especially in digital signal processing.”

Tilera, which has 64 employees, said TILE64 delivers 40 times the performance of the highest-performing DSP, or digital signal processor, chip made by Texas Instruments Inc (TXN.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).

DSPs are used in the cell phone and other markets to translate real-world signals such as sound into the digital ones and zeros of computer programming language.

“The product they’re talking about is not really targeted at general purpose computing,” Brookwood said. “It would be great for cell phone tower base stations, much more than it’s ever going to be a desktop processor or a server processor in a data center.”

Tilera offers its chips, made under contract by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (2330.TW: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), in three configurations. Prices start at $435 each in 10,000-unit quantities. Plans also include 36-core and 120-core devices.

IIB’s Note: Azul developed a 48 core processor over 2 years ago.


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