Intel Ships Systems with 48-Core Processors to Select Institutions

Prototype 48-Core Microprocessors Are at Developer’s Hands

by Anton Shilov
05/28/2010 | 09:38 AM

Intel Corp. has started to ship its systems powered by its prototype processor known as single chip cloud computer (SCC) that contains 48 x86 cores to software developers outside the company. The world’s largest chipmaker hopes that the 48-core SCC will help both it as well as software developers to create a vision for microprocessors of the future.


“We have started to share [SCC-based systems] with very select external partners. There are some interesting results coming out and I guess pretty interesting news are incoming over summer,” said Sebastian Steibl, the director of Intel Labs Braunschweig and one of the co-designers of the SCC chip, in an interview with X-bit labs.

The prototype chip contains 24 tiles with two x86 cores per each, which results in 48 cores – the largest number ever placed on a single piece of silicon. Each core can run a separate OS and software stack and act like an individual compute node that communicates with other compute nodes over a packet-based network. Every core sports its own L2 cache and each tile sports a special router logic that allows tiles to communicate with each other using a 24-router mesh network with 256GB/s bisection bandwidth. There is no hardware cache coherence support among cores in order to simplify the design, reduce power consumption and to encourage the exploration of datacenter distributed memory software models on-chip. Each tile (2 cores) can have its own frequency, and groupings of four tiles (8 cores) can each run at their own voltage. The processor sports four integrated DDR3 memory controllers, or one controller per twelve cores.

Intel calls x86 cores inside the SCC as “Pentium-class” cores since they are superscalar in-order execution engines, but stresses that those are not cores used inside by the original Pentium (P5) processors since they have been enhanced in order to achieve certain goals and make the design suitable for implementation into the experimental chip. Considering that SCC lacks any floating point vector units, raw horsepower of the chip is relatively weak.

Intel SCC is not supposed to become an actual product by definition. The design, peculiarities and single-thread performance of the prototype will hardly satisfy actual users. The chip is purely a prototype that will help Intel and software developers to determine directions for future development of the microprocessors and software.

“It was designed by a small group of researchers in Braunschweig in order to foster multi-core programming research as well as some microprocessor research angle,” said Mr. Steibl.