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Intel's 80-core processor on show

IDF demo previews 2-teraflop chip

Intel demonstrated its fastest multi-core processor yet at the Spring Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Beijing today - an 80-core processor that hit a speedy 2-teraflops (trillions of floating point operations per second).

Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner showed off the latest example of the company's Terascale technology, a research effort aimed at keeping Intel processors at the cutting edge of speed.

The point of the chips is to push into new technology frontiers. Not only are they speedy, but they are designed to use as little power as possible and better manage heat. Such speedy chips could be used for processing intensive work, such as military or scientific research, weather modelling, in the financial markets or in mining and exploration. The company has no plans to bring the chips to market.

A first-run of the processor reached 1 teraflop and used 46 watts. A second test reached 1.5 teraflops on 93.98 watts. Then, a final run achieved 2 teraflops, using 191.79 watts.

The new chip improves over the performance of its predecessor, which Intel showed off in February. The 80-core chip, which was just the size of a fingernail, hit a computing speed of 1.81 teraflops.

Intel used the demonstration to reinforce one of IDF's main themes: that it is and intends to remain the chip speed and technology leader as die size continues to shrink. The company plans to ensure a "sustained technology cadence", Rattner said, or a regular roll-out of new chips using smaller dies so that end-user product developers can count on timely upgrades and new technology.

The company's 45-nanometer manufacturing technology is another major piece of Intel's push forward. It's the first new transistor architecture from Intel in 40 years, due to changes Intel made in order to further shrink the size of the vital chip component.

"Sustained leadership in terms of the semiconductor process and the underlying technology" is key to the company's success, Rattner said.

Chips made using the 45 nm production technology will see a 20 percent increase in performance; gate leakage reduced by 10 times; and about a doubling in transistor density, Rattner said.

Production of Intel's upcoming Penryn microprocessor, a Core 2 Duo built on 45 nm technology will begin commercial production in the second half of 2007, he said, in line with earlier company forecasts for the new chip. The company's smallest manufacturing process used in mass production currently is 65 nm technology.

Going forward, Intel will move to even tinier 32 nm technology in 2009, with 30 nm technology following afterwards, Rattner said, although he did not specify when. Between 2006 and 2010, improvement in performance per watt will be 300 percent.


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