updated 11:25 am EDT, Mon May 31, 2010
Intel Knights Corner targets highly parallel PCs
Intel held a surprise in store today as it unveiled its first plans for a production many-core processor. Codenamed Knights Corner, the 22 nanometer chip would use a new, x86-based Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture that would allow for many small processors working together on very parallel tasks. Over 50 cores should fit on a single chip once the technology is advanced, Intel said.
The design hasn't yet been given a full briefing but is based on technology from the 48-core Single-Chip Cloud Computer processor and the now-cancelled Larrabee graphics. These use a grid of many cores joined together by a form of network that keeps the data flowing between each core at as high a speed as possible, preventing some of the usual diminishing returns of multiple cores.
No set release date has been given, but Intel is seeding early developer kits now and plans a wider set of tools in the second half of the year. The semiconductor firm is primarily targeting servers and workstations that could use the parallelism but would otherwise need many expensive and power-hungry Xeon processors for the same goal. The company still expects some tasks to run faster on Xeons but sees Knights Corner as an alternative.
The chip design isn't tied to a particular platform but may potentially serve very multiprocessing-aware platforms like Mac OS X Snow Leopard. Grand Central Dispatch, an API in Apple's OS, is designed to optimize apps to make full use of as many cores as they need. It should scale dynamically and could let apps make use of as many hardware cores as exist in the system.