Intel Reveals Design for Fast, Efficient Future Chips

First wave of 'Larrabee' chips will be tailored for handling computer game graphics.

Intel on Aug. 4 revealed details of a new generation of chips designed for video game lovers, multitaskers, and people who want power-sipping computers adapted to increasingly mobile lifestyles. The world's largest chip maker provided a glimpse of "multicore" computer processing technology code named "Larrabee" that it plans to showcase next week at an industry conference in Los Angeles.

Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices already sell chips with two or four "cores," basically the brains in processors.

Intel is to release in 2009 or 2010 a first wave of Larrabee chips with 16 to 48 cores and tailored for handling computer game graphics.

Multicore chips cut energy use and heat while speeding performance by dividing tasks between cores. Portions of programs run simultaneously in a style referred to as "parallel computing. Traditional single-core processors handle tasks in a linear fashion, racing from start to finish in sequence.

Along with allowing faster computer game play with film quality graphics, multicore chips are considered a boon to computer users increasingly prone to tending to multiple tasks at once. For example, a computer user might watch online video, tend to email and text messaging while anti-virus software runs in the background.

Designing software and support architecture that best enables "many-core" chips to divide tasks among the brains in ways that maximize computing efficiency has proved daunting. Microsoft and Intel have software research alliances with major universities and Intel is also working with the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"It is important for industry to work in tandem with academia to unleash the immense power of parallel computing," Microsoft Research vice president Tony Hey said when the alliance was announced.

Intel researchers have already made an 80-core processor. "We're quickly moving the computing industry to a many-core world," Intel Research director Andrew Chien said at the alliance launch. Chien predicts that multicore chips will let computers "bridge the physical world with the virtual."

Predicted research breakthroughs include software enabling people's mobile telephone to recognize faces of approaching acquaintances and whisper their names to users. Another foreseeable application is described as voice recognition software so accurate it could be used to record witness testimony in courtroom proceedings.

Larrabee's initial foray into the multibillion dollar computer graphics market will put it in an arena dominated by Nvidia and AMD, which both reportedly plan to market chips with hundreds of cores.

Copyright Agence France-Presse 2008

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