Scottish Scientists Develop 1000-core Super Processor

broadband network fibre

A new chip that could see computers becoming much faster and greener has been developed by Scottish researchers

A new computer processor has been developed that promises a massive leap in performance, along with reduced power consumption as well.

This is thanks to scientists at the University of Glasgow who have created an ultra-fast 1,000-core computer processor.

The processor was developed by Dr Wim Vanderbauwhede and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

FPGA Division

As we already know, the humble CPU (central processing unit) is the main engine of the modern computer that reads and executes instructions. It used to be the case that computers came with a CPU that only had one core processor, but today’s processors often come with two, four or even sixteen cores.

But in order to get a thousand cores on a single chip, Dr Vanderbauwhede and his colleagues used a chip called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), which like all microchips contains millions of transistors, i.e. the tiny on-off switches that are the foundation of any electronic circuit.

The advantage of FPGAs is that they can be configured into specific circuits by the user, rather than their function being set at a factory. This apparently allowed Dr Vanderbauwhede to divide up the transistors within the chip into small groups and ask each to perform a different task.

“By creating more than 1,000 mini-circuits within the FPGA chip, the researchers effectively turned the chip into a 1,000-core processor – each core working on its own instructions,” the University said.

Faster and Greener

To show how effective this solution is, the scientists used the chip to process an algorithm which is central to the MPEG movie format at a speed of 5Gbps, around 20 times faster than current top-end desktop computers.

“FPGAs are not used within standard computers because they are fairly difficult to program, but their processing power is huge while their energy consumption is very small because they are so much quicker – so they are also a greener option,” said Dr Vanderbauwhede.

“This is very early proof-of-concept work where we’re trying to demonstrate a convenient way to program FPGAs so that their potential to provide very fast processing power could be used much more widely in future computing and electronics,” Dr Vanderbauwhede added. “While many existing technologies currently make use of FPGAs, including plasma and LCD televisions and computer network routers, their use in standard desk-top computers is limited.”

“However, we are already seeing some microchips which combine traditional CPUs with FPGA chips being announced by developers, including Intel and ARM,” he said. “I believe these kinds of processors will only become more common and help to speed up computers even further over the next few years.”

New Developments

The research of Dr Vanderbauwhede will be presented at the International Symposium on Applied Reconfigurable Computing in March next year.

Developments in the chip industry are happening thick and fast. In early December, IBM showed off its photonics achievements, and how light will carry processor signals in the future much faster than electricity can.

And existing players are moving out of their traditional sectors. ARM Holdings for example has recently revealed its intention of taking on Intel with its own server chips in the next five years. This came in response to Intel, which looking to expand into ARM’s traditional smartphone territory.