New Nvidia Chip Steps Closer to Supercomputing in the PC
A new breed of consumer-oriented graphics chips have roughly the brute computing processing power of the worldâ€™s fastest computing system of just seven years ago.
Companies have said that the line between such chips and conventional microprocessors is beginning to blur. For example, the new Nvidia chip will handle physics computations that are performed by Sonyâ€™s Cell microprocessor in the companyâ€™s forthcoming PlayStation 3 console. The new Nvidia chip will have 128 processors intended for specific functions, including displaying high-resolution video.
That convergence was emphasized earlier this year when an annual competition sponsored by Microsoftâ€™s research labs to determine the fastest sorting algorithm was won this year by a team that used a G.P.U. instead of a traditional microprocessor.
Silicon Valley is known for “noble failures” – those companies that aim for the stars, run out of fuel, and end up as large smoking craters in the ground. Take Transmeta – please! A year and a half after they stopped making chips, Transmeta is suing Intel for violating its low-power patents.
One of the patents in the suit covers “adaptive power control,” which changes the speed of a microprocessor on the fly to adapt to usage and power needs. Transmeta applied for that patent in January 2000 and received it in August, said John O’Hara Horsley, general counsel for Transmeta. He said Intel’s SpeedStep technology, which throttles back a computer’s performance to conserve power, appears to violate the Transmeta patent. Under patent law, the filing date for a patent application determines who came up with an invention first.
Transmeta says that Intel’s Pentium III, Pentium 4, Pentium M, Core and Core 2 products infringe on Transmeta’s patents. The complaint asks for an injunction against Intel’s continuing sales of infringing products as well as monetary damages, royalties, treble damages and attorneys’ fees.
Right. Good luck to Transmeta on that one. I’m sure they have nothing to fear from Intel’s legal team.
I.B.M. to Build Supercomputer Powered by Video Game Chips
The Department of Energy said Wednesday that it had awarded I.B.M. a contract to build a supercomputer capable of 1,000 trillion calculations a second, using an array of 16,000 Cell processor chips that I.B.M. designed for the coming PlayStation 3 video game machine.
The Roadrunner will use the Sony Cell Broadband Engine as a specialized processor, with a corresponding array of Advanced Micro Devices Opteron microprocessors. This kind of hybrid design is increasingly being used as designers scramble to reach ever-greater computing speeds.
According to an interview in Electronic News, manufacturing yields for the IBM / Sony Cell processor might be as low as 10 to 20 percent.
With standard silicon germanium (SiGe) single-core processors, IBM can achieve yields of up to 95%, [IBM VP Tom Reeves] told Electronic News. But “with a chip like the Cell processor,” he then remarked, “you’re lucky to get 10 or 20 percent.”
He implied that because the Cell uses as many as eight identical synergistic processing elements (SPEs), but Sony only requires the use of seven, some production units could, in fact, get away with one core in eight being defective without any impact on the customer.
Itanium’s future hangs in the balance
Many chip experts have already written off Itanium as a failure. Even before it debuted five years ago, industry wags coined the nickname “Itanic” for the chip. The theme of a sinking ship has stayed with Itanium since then as many customers have decided it is inefficient, expensive and not worth the trouble of upgrading to newer software and hardware.
The new version of the Itanium chip, code-named Montecito, has more than 1.7 billion transistors.
In the past year, Itanium has lost some momentum, particularly because Montecito is being released nine months late.
Intel just announced that it is selling its handheld processor division to Marvell Technology Group for $600 million. That division produces versions of Intel’s XScale processor, derived from the old DEC StrongArm.
In the deal, Intel is selling its PXA9xx communications processor and PXA27x application chip, which are used in only a few handheld devices.
Intel will also keep its networking and storage processors, which bear the XScale name, Manetta said. This means Intel will maintain its architectural license with ARM, a designer of processor cores for mobile phones and embedded devices.
The division contains about 1400 people. Marvell employs 2200. Intel shares are up slightly on the news, while Marvell stock dropped.
Back in 2003, Prof. Chen Jin of Jiaotong University in Shanghai announced “Hanxin”, the first DSP chip designed in China. The design was hailed as an important milestone for the Chinese semiconductor industry. The government ordered “millions” of chips from companies founded by Dr. Jin. Now the university and government say that Jin faked the research, and had simply copied foreign chips.
According to some reports, “migrant workers had simply scratched away the name Motorola from a chip and replaced it with Hanxin”.
I am shocked. Shocked and amazed. I didn’t even know that China had migrant workers.
Rapport today announced a new reconfigurable processing chip and an alliance with IBM. Good luck to them. Many have tried, many have failed with reconfigurable chips.
And if their performance is so great, why do they compare themselves to an ARM 7 processor, an incredibly anemic chip?
Rapport, which raised $7 million last year and is based in Redwood City, Calif., licensed a computing design from researchers at 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.
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.
Singer said the current chip can process at least 25 billion operations per second, about five to 10 times faster than current low-power chips. He said that would enable new kinds of gadgets, from a “suitcase supercomputer” to a handheld computer that can play high-definition videos.
The company has raised $10 million to date and is raising another $20 million. It has 20 employees. IBM is working with the start-up on the second chip and has invited Rapport to join the Power.org alliance of companies that support IBM’s PowerPC technology.
Intel scraps once-crucial Itanium feature
Anyone wishing to run programs for x86 chips on Montecito must use Intel emulation software called IA-32 Execution Layer, or IA-32 EL, that was first released in 2004.
“IA-32 EL provides much better performance and flexibility for 32-bit applications on Itanium,” spokeswoman Erica Fields said of the choice. “With Montecito, we took back the silicon area that was being used up by the x86 hardware support.”