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Intel unveils 48-core cloud computing silicon chip

3 December 09 10:40 GMT

Intel has unveiled a prototype chip that packs 48 separate processing cores on to a chunk of silicon the size of a postage stamp.

The Single-chip Cloud Computer (SCC), as it is known, contains 1.3 billion transistors, the tiny on-off switches that underpin chip technology.

Each processing core could, in theory, run a separate operating system.

Currently, top-end chips for desktop computers typically contain four separate processors.

Intel and rival AMD will both launch new six-core devices in 2010, allowing computers to simultaneously tackle a number of complex tasks, such as processing graphics.

'Tiny islands'

The chip has won the "cloud" name because it brings together the computing resources typically filling several racks in a data centre.

The SCC is made up of 24 "tiles" each one of which is effectively a dual-core processor.

The chip maker said the research that had gone into the chip suggests that it could, eventually, cram 100 cores onto a single piece of silicon.

In 2007, the firm showed off an 80-core processor, whilst earlier this year a US firm called Tilera announced a 100-core chip. Also graphics chip maker Nvidia has previewed its next-generation processor that has 512 cores.

However, unlike both of these, the SCC is based on Intel's X86 architecture, meaning it can run operating systems found in normal desktop computers such as Windows and Linux.

Microsoft said it had already put SCC into its development pipeline so it could exploit it in the future.

Intel said it had already demonstrated Linux running on each core. It has also found a way to slash the management overhead required to keep the processors crunching data in synch.

In a bid to keep power consumption down, the tiles making up the chip can be divided into islands of different sizes that run at separate voltages.

"Over time, I expect these advanced concepts to find their way into mainstream devices, just as advanced automotive technology such as electronic engine control, air bags and anti-lock braking eventually found their way into all cars," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer.

Intel said the SCC would be made officially available to researchers and interested companies during the first half of 2010. More details will be released at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco on 8 February, 2010.

Intel has not yet said when it will become generally available.

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