by December 4, 2007 0 comments

Multi-core CPUs are nothing new. They’ve existed in the RISC world for ages.
However, it’s a relatively new phenomenon on the x86 platform. Hence that’s what
we’ll elaborate on in this article, along with some other varieties of
multi-core. In the world of IT, there’s always been a cat and mouse chase
between hardware and software. Everytime a fast, new hardware is introduced,
software developers come out with applications to quickly consume its power.
Likewise, the hardware manufacturers then start working on something to manage
the growing demands from the software and the cycle repeats.

For a long time, in CPUs, this demand from applications was largely being
addressed by increasing the clock speed, FSB, etc. This went on until the clock
speeds hit a ceiling, exceeding which was just not possible. Plus, higher clock
speeds also affected the power consumption and heat generation by the CPU. The
only way out therefore was to increase the number of CPUs in the system. Adding
more physical sockets into a system would have increased circuit complexity and
increased the cost. A more efficient solution was required that would manage the
costs, be more power efficient, and yet be powerful enough to manage the growing
demands from software.

That’s how multi-core CPUs came into being, or putting in multiple cores
within the same CPU die without increasing its size. Today, the number of cores
has increased to four, and next year, expect it to go up to 8 and continue
increasing thereafter.

So now, the new battle of increasing the number of cores has started, or
shall we call it multi-core wars.

The story so far:
  • Intel launched their new mobile platform
  • AMD launched their first Quad Core
    processor named Barcelona
  • NVDIA and ATI brought out their Direct X
    10 GPUs for next generation gaming
  • Intel and AMD announced their 45nm
    processor named Penryn and Phenom respectively
  • First Quad Core processor for the desktop

Opportunities Galore for Multi-Core
Multi-core CPUs have not only impacted the traditional desktop PC, laptop,
and server markets, but have also opened up a plethora of opportunities for many
other segments. So whether it’s gadgets like cellphones, smart phones, PDAs, or
consumer appliances like microwaves or even the automobiles, everything can
benefit from multi-core CPUs, and work is on to achieve the same.

As per the latest trend in the
market, the quad cores are replacing the dual cores at a fast pace

Multi-Core this year
Lots of exciting things happened in multi-core this year. Intel bombarded
the market with a slew of new multi-core processors for desktops, laptops, and
servers. So much so that before one could even digest the launch of a new CPU,
another more enhanced CPU gets released. For instance, it’s not been long since
the 65 nm processor came into the market, and 45 nm based CPUs have already been
announced. Intel also has plans to move to 32 nm process very soon. In Jan this
year, it introduced its Quad Core range of CPUs as well.

Likewise, AMD, which had been lagging in the multi-core race, finally came up
with their first Quad Core Processor called Barcelona for servers. Plus, they
also launched a higher clock speed Dual Core processor, called the AMD Athlon 64
Black Edition. AMD has also announced its 45 nm based processors and has plans
to move to 32 nm as well.

We have also seen specially designed motherboards that can accommodate two
quad core processors, which is meant for high-end workstations. At this pace,
we’re likely to see such technologies moving to the desktop as well.
Interestingly, vendors are offering new upgraded processors and still continuing
support for the previous generations so as to provide enough options for the
consumer to choose from.

Multi-Core in graphics and gaming
We also witnessed an increased demand of gaming consoles like the XBox 360,
Playstation, and Wii. All of them use multi core processors. This is one segment
where the demand for more computing power will surely increase apart from the
regular gaming potential.

GPUs too have matured with Windows Vista’s launch. This year we have seen
GPUs having as many as 320 stream processing units (cores). Both NVIDIA and ATI
have dished out GPUs that not only play the latest games, but are also capable
of handling parallel processing tasks in an effective and efficient manner. In
fact, there’s even talk of actually replacing CPUs with GPUs.

Few terminologies that
might be the buzz word of the future

  • APU: Accelerated Processing Unit
    will be a multi core chip that will allow the flexibility mixing processor
    along with other dedicated processors. Fusion is the first step towards
    achieving the goal.
  • Fusion: Heterogeneous multi core
    processor, which will be a combination of general processor execution
    along with 3D geometry processing with various other functionality of
    current generation of GPUs.
  • Intel’s Genesso: Intel’s answer to
    AMD’s announcement of Torrenza. It will enable much faster pathway than
    the current PCI Express. The plan is to interface devices directly to the
    FSB, allowing them to communicate much faster with the CPU and memory.
  • AMD Torrenza: An initiative by AMD
    to integrate specialized co-processor in the systems based on AMD’s
    Opteron microprocessor. The main objective is to develop and access those
    computational technologies that may eventually migrate onto the processor
    die itself.
  • NVIDIA CUDA ( Compute Unified Device
    It is mainly a new compute architecture that will allow
    the GPUs to solve complex computational problems in consumer, business and
    technical applications.
  • Tera —Scale Computing: Terabytes of
    data that must be handled by platform capable of teraflops of computing
    performance. So soon you will see regular devices dishing out massive
    compute capabilities that are now only witnessed in Super Computers.

What to expect in the future
One of the key drivers behind multi-core CPU technologies is virtualization.
Both Intel and AMD have independently developed their own virtualization
extensions. Intel has plans of adding the technology ‘Virtualization for
Directed I/O (VT-d)’ that will provide a way for configuring interrupt delivery
to individual virtual machine and an Input Output Memory Management Unit (IOMMU)
for preventing a virtual machine from using DMA to break isolation. AMD too has
similar plans. It plans to add specifications for IOMMU that will provide a way
for configuring interrupt delivery to individual virtual machines. AMD has
already announced an initiative named Torrenza to promote the usage of Hyper
Transport for plug-in cards and coprocessor. This technology is widely used by
AMD, Transmeta, NVIDIA, VIA and SiS. Macro Fusion, a term coined by Intel refers
to the processor’s ability to combine several instructions into one, thus
optimizing it and making for a faster execute.

Unified Shader architecture and introduction of Geometry Shader has also
added a new dimension to the way games are played and developed. Looking ahead
we might soon see Hot-spare processor core as well, the way it’s available for
storage, power supplies, and memory. AMD has decided to add more processor
sockets to their motherboard and an open socket specification. This would
eventually allow the addition of specialized processors into the sockets that
are free.

From 90nm to current 45nm processors, the journey had been enthralling and
beneficiary. Very soon, may be by early 2009, we will have 32nm processors in
the market. The future looks interesting as AMD plans to dish out the FUSION,
which will be mainly a heterogeneous multi-core processor. Intel has similar
plans too; they plan to come out with their first ever GPU (Larrabee), therefore
a processor in similar line with AMD’s Fusion can’t be ruled out.

peek into the future
  • Soon we might see the arrival of 32nm processors
  • A combination of CPU and GPU in a single die will be a reality within
    next 2 years
  • Intel will come up with their first ever GPU
  • Tera Scale computing on ordinary hardware might be a reality soon
  • Concept of cores might be replaced by concept of APU (Accelerated
    Processing Unit)
  • We might see a single die having as many as 80 cores.

In multi core domain, research is being done to achieve tera-scale computing.
This means we will witness a thousand times more computing capability than what
is available in today’s giga-scale devices. In the next few years AMD’s Fusion
and Torrenza, and Intel’s Genesso, NVIDIA’s CUDA, and Intel’s tera-scale
computing will give a different dimension to the way silicon would be performing
several tasks that are unheard of. We may also see processors with as many as 80
cores in the current future and if the development keeps going on at this pace
then century (100 cores) isn’t too far away.

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