2007Landau - MARCH/APRIL 2007 Copublished by the IEEE CS...

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Unformatted text preview: MARCH/APRIL 2007 Copublished by the IEEE CS and the AIP 1521-9615/07/$25.00 © 2007 IEEE 3 Editor: Rubin Landau, [email protected] N E W S T here’s no question that multicore processors have gone mainstream. These computer chips, which have more than one CPU, first hit the consumer market less than two years ago. Today, practically every new computer has a dual-core (two-CPU) chip, and Intel just launched a quad-core chip with four CPUs. One of 2006’s most in-demand holiday gifts was Sony’s PlayStation 3, which boasts a “cell” chip with nine CPUs for faster and more realistic video gaming. Multicore systems might offer advantages to gamers, but what about researchers? David A. Bader, who directs a new research center at Georgia Tech devoted to cell technol- ogy, says that making the most of multicore systems will require new tools, new algorithms, and a new way of look- ing at programming. Embrace Concurrency “We’ve known for some time that Moore’s law was ending, and we would no longer be able to keep improving perfor- mance,” Bader says. “The steady progression from sym- metric multiprocessing to putting many functional units on a chip to multicore has been a long time coming.” Software ran faster year after year, not because of software innova- tions, but because chip makers kept adding transistors to the standard single-processor architecture. Now, he says, clock speeds are capped out at around 4 GHz: “If we want faster speeds, we have to embrace concurrency and make use of multiple processors on the chip at once.” Bader heads the Sony-Toshiba-IBM (STI) Center of Com- petence at Georgia Tech, where researchers will develop ap- plications for the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell BE) microprocessor—the chip that powers the PlayStation 3, as well as IBM’s QS20 blade servers. The Cell BE is already be- ing developed for aerospace, defense, and medical imaging; the new research center will focus on scientific computing and bioinformatics. Bader also received a Microsoft research grant to develop algorithms that exploit multicore processors. He’ll adapt a library package called Swarm (SoftWare and Algo- rithms for Running on Multicore; http://sourceforge.net/ projects/multicore-swarm/) that he began building in 1994. Although a huge industry push toward multicore systems exists today, there wasn’t one when Bader first began work- ing on Swarm. Another computer scientist who started thinking about multicore even earlier—albeit, on the hard- ware side of things—is Stanford University’s Kunle Oluko- tun. He recalls that when he and his colleagues started talking about multicore architectures in the early 1990s, they received a cool reception. “Back then, people thought that single-core processors still had a lot of life in them,” he says. But by 2001, he was working with Sun Microsystems to commercialize his first multicore chip, the Niagara. They designed it to work 10 times faster than existing devices with...
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2007Landau - MARCH/APRIL 2007 Copublished by the IEEE CS...

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