Recently Intel demonstrated its system powered by the 48-core processor and also began to supply its select partners with appropriate machines with one simple purpose: to promote multi-core programming research as well as determine future directions of microprocessor development. The findings of the research project may eventually revolutionize the whole approach to hardware and software development.
In this interview we are talking with Sebastian Steibl, one of the developers of the single chip cloud computer, in order to find more about the SCC, the goals of the project and the future of computing. In order to have an expert and unbiased view onto the future of processing in general, we also asked several questions to Jon Peddie, the head of the Jon Peddie Research company.
X-bit labs: Hello, can you introduce yourself and briefly describe what you do at Intel.
Sebastian Steibl: My name is Sebastian Steibl and I am the director of Intel Labs Braunschweig, which is a part of global Intel Labs organization, which is headed by Intel’s chief technology officer Justin Rattner. I was one of the two design managers for the single chip cloud computer (SCC), I was involved into the design of both silicon and the platform itself. The SCC is a research chip, it is not coming out from the product groups, it is not intended to be a product, it was designed by a small team of researchers with the purpose to foster many-core programming research as well as some microprocessor research angle.
In fact, Intel Labs Braunschweig is a part of the Intel Labs Europe organization, which has twenty labs in the EU and around 900 of researchers. The institution by itself is rather big (startup companies have tens of employees, not hundreds) and considering the research nature of the group, it has a huge potential.
I am back – Pentium
X-bit labs: There are talks that Intel SCC has 48 P54C cores, the Pentium cores. Is this information correct, or the cores inside the SCC are more advanced than those, which were meant to have their place inside Larrabee graphics processor?
Sebastian Steibl: We call them Pentium-class cores. Their characteristics are ‘small core with in-order short pipeline’, which is identical to P54C and very comparable to the Pentium.
X-bit labs: What is the reason why you decided to use those very old cores?
Sebastian Steibl: The main goal of the SCC was building a research vehicle that could include the highest amount of cores possible on the given die. We had to do tradeoffs with respect to performance per core and area, so, we could take more powerful cores, but then we would not have a capability to install so many cores. […] as we have found, the Pentium-class cores is a sweet spot in terms of the programming tools support. The Pentium is still supported by all modern programming tools. If you go with smaller cores [and less advanced micro-architecture], then support of standard compilers will be [more than] limited. This is the reason why we decided to use the Pentium: it is well supported by world-class development tools, it is fully IA-compatible and it is small, so you can put many of them onto the die.
X-bit labs: What is the amount of transistors inside Intel SCC?
Sebastian Steibl: Around 1.3 billion.
X-bit labs: How high is the projected performance of the SCC in terms of GLOPS/TFLOPS is?
Sebastian Steibl: Actual performance was not a design target. Pentium cores without vector FP units [process] a floating number which is not that high. Hence, we targeted to increase the parallelism within the chip rather to achieve the maximum amount of TFLOPS. If we had put additional FP vector units [like those inside Larrabee] into the SCC, we would need more area and, what is even more important, power.
Since we wanted to build a part that is as parallel as possible to advance many-core software research, we took the decision to not go for high floating point (FP) performance.