Intel Develops Powerful 48-Core Smartphone Chip

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

Intel is reportedly developing a very powerful processor for smartphones, said to be a 48-core chip

Chip giant Intel continues its assault on the mobile chip sector after reports emerged that it is developing a 48-core chip for mobile devices, which could arrive within the next five to 10 years.

According to a report in Computerworld, researchers at Intel Labs in Barcelona are working on determining ways to use and manage so many cores on a mobile chip, but said that such processing capabilities could lead to significantly more powerful and energy-efficient chips in devices.

Smartphone Supercomputer

Eventually, it could result in the creation of smartphones that have the capability of being a user’s primary computing devices, enabling them to do away with tablets and laptops, Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told the news site.

“If we’re going to have this technology in five to 10 years, we could finally do things that take way too much processing power today,” Moorhead said. “This could really open up our concept of what is a computer. … The phone would be smart enough to not just be a computer but it could be my computer.”

Currently, ARM-based mobile chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 and Nvidia’s Tegra 3 are coming with as many as four cores. (Tegra 3 actually has a fifth core that runs at a lower frequency than the other four and can run certain workloads, which can save energy.) Intel is looking to gain traction in the smartphone market with its low-power Android platform, with current smartphone chips offering one core.

Intel researchers said that with so many cores, workloads on smartphones could be divided between the cores and run in parallel, rather than splitting all the tasks between a smaller number of cores. For example, they said, a user could encrypt an email while at the same time work on power-intensive apps, or enjoy a much better video experience. All that can be done now, though much more slowly because the workloads have to share resources.

In addition, running jobs in parallel rather than at capacity on a single core would result in less power being consumed.

User Demand?

Intel CTO Justin Rattner told Computerworld that despite the predictions of company researchers, a 48-core chip could reach the market sooner than 10 years, in large part due to the demand from users.

“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,” Rattner said. “Having large numbers of cores to generate very high performance levels is the most energy-efficient way to deliver those performance levels.”

The 48-core project echoes the efforts Intel is making with its Xeon Phi MIC (Many Integrated Core) coprocessors efforts in servers. The Xeon Phi chips – which will offer more than 50 cores – will be used in high-performance computing (HPC) and similar data centre environments to run highly parallel workloads and take some of the load off the larger Xeon processors.

Intel officials earlier this month gave journalists a tour of the Stampede supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Centre. The massive supercomputer, which will be based on Dell systems and offer performance of up to 10 petaflops, also will feature Intel’s eight-core Xeon E5-2680 chips and Xeon Phi coprocessors.

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