A team of scientists from the University of California has created the world's first microchip with 1,000 independent processors. Called 'KiloCore' chip, it is also claimed to be the world's fastest chip ever designed at a university. The chip, which was presented this week at the 2016 Symposium on VLSI Technology and Circuits, is capable of 1.78 trillion instructions per second and contains 621 million transistors. The partially Department of Defense-funded KiloCore chip was ultimately built by IBM using existing 32 nanometer semiconductor fabrication technology.
Unfortunately, a 1,000 core chip isn't something that could just be plugged into the next line of MacBook Pros. It wouldn't even really suffice as a graphics processor, where massively parallel computation is the norm. In fact, many GPUs exceed the 1,000 cores of the UC Davis chip, but with the caveat that the individual cores are directed according to a central controller. The KiloCore, by contrast, is built from completely independent cores capable of running completely independent computer programs.
Here's all you need to know about the chip:
- This microchip has been designed by a team at the University of California, Davis, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
- KiloCore chip executes instructions more than 100 times more efficiently than a modern laptop processor.
- Each processor core can run its own small program independently of the others, which is a fundamentally more flexible approach than the Single-Instruction-Multiple-Data approaches utilized by processors such as graphics processing unit (GPU). Because each processor is independently clocked, it can shut itself down to further save energy when not needed.
- The chip has been fabricated by IBM using its 32nm CMOS technology. KiloCore's each processor core can run its own small program independently of the others.
- Cores operate at an average maximum clock frequency of 1.78 GHz, and they transfer data directly to each other rather than using a pooled memory area that can become a bottleneck for data.
The independence of the cores makes the KiloCore chip a multiple instruction multiple data (MIMD) computer. This is in contrast to the more typical single instruction multiple data (SIMD) variety of parallel computation, as would be expected in a graphics processor. A SIMD machine's version of parallelism is to implement the same single operation across many different cores - that is, do the same thing to many different units of data. This is the norm in image processing, for example, where a lot of different pixels holding different a lot of different values are all updated in the same way. A MIMD machine can be expected to do much more complex calculations.
Together, the 1,000 processors can execute 115 billion instructions per second while dissipating only 0.7 Watts. As noted in a UC Davis press release, this power requirement is low enough that it could be supplied by a single AA battery, achieving an efficiency of around 100 times that of a normal laptop processor.
The energy savings here largely has to do with the abandoning of the traditional system memory architecture, in which data for multiple cores is stored in a central RAM unit. Rather than sharing data in this way, the KiloCore chip uses a built-in networking scheme in which data is transferred directly between the different processors using packet- and circuit-switched networking.