Intel Touts Many-Core Processors for Mobile Devices

Intel Envisions 48-Core or Better Chips for Mobile Devices

by Anton Shilov
10/30/2012 | 11:36 PM

As smartphones, media tablets and other low-power consumer devices are gaining personal computer-like functionality, they need higher-performance microprocessors that are still small and not really power-hungry. Intel Corp. claims that extreme many-core chips, such as the company’s experimental 48-core SCC [single-chip cloud computer], could be viable for next-gen mobile applications.


Intel Labs, a research arm of Intel, in Barcelona is working on finding new ways to use and manage many cores in mobile devices. The world’s largest chipmaker believes that sharing tasks between many low-power cores could be more energy efficient and result in higher performance overall that performing tasks on one or several cores. The researchers believe that in approximately five to ten years’ time many-core mobile chips may make it to the market.

“Typically a processor with one core would do jobs one after another. With multiple cores, they can divide the work among them,” said Enric Herrero, a research scientist at Intel Labs, in an interview with Computerworld web-site.


Chief technology officer of Intel believes that the need for many-core chips inside mobile devices may occur even sooner than researchers think as more natural user interfaces become mainstream.

“I think the desire to move to more natural interfaces to make the interaction much more human-like is really going to drive the computational requirements. Having large numbers of cores to generate very high performance levels is the most energy efficient way to deliver those performance levels. If it is doing speech recognition or computer vision... that's very computational intensive. It is just not practical to just take sound and pictures and send it up to the cloud and expect that some server is going to perform those tasks. So a lot of that will be pushed out to the client devices,” said Justin Rattner, the CTO of Intel.

Intel SCC-based prototype system

One problem the researchers are running into is making sure there is software for small mobile devices that can take advantage of many-core microprocessors.

“This is a more limiting factor. We need to modify how operating systems and apps are developed, making them far more parallel. Now, [having] cores does not matter if I cannot take advantage of it,” said Mr. Herrero.

While Intel approach clearly seems very innovative, one should remember that developers of system-on-chip devices for smartphones and tablets are embracing heterogeneous processing architectures these days. Instead of tens of homogeneous cores of Intel’s SCC, mobile SoCs of tomorrow are going to have a number of general-purpose processing cores for typical applications as well as tens of so-called stream processors for highly-parallelized tasks.