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Chip Makers
less able to block the flow of electrons.
Thus, small transistors tend to use elec-
tricity all the time, even when they
aren’t switching. This wastes power.

Turn to Multicore
Also, increasing clock speeds causes
transistors to switch faster and thus
generate more heat and consume more
power. Gwennap said thermal-design

advances have mitigated some prob-
lems. However, he noted, this approach
can’t keep pace with processors’
increasing power and heat buildup.
These and other challenges have hurt
David Geer
manufacturers’ plans for new, faster
single-core processors. For example,
Intel canceled two next-generation
Pentium 4 processors last year, noted

omputer performance has Jeff Austin, the company’s desktop
been driven largely by product manager. Intel also postponed
decreasing the size of chips and then cancelled a 4-GHz, current-
while increasing the number generation Pentium. And IBM could
of transistors they contain. In build so few of its G5 chips that Apple
accordance with Moore’s law, this has Computer had to delay last year’s intro-
caused chip speeds to rise and prices duction of its new iMac G5 desktop,
to drop. This ongoing trend has dri- which uses the processor.
ven much of the computing industry
However, transistors can’t shrink creasingly powerful core. The multi- A dual-core chip running multiple
forever. Even now, as transistor com- core chips don’t necessarily run as fast applications is about 1.5 times faster
ponents grow thinner, chip manufac- as the highest performing single-core than a chip with just one comparable
turers have struggled to cap power models, but they improve overall per- core, according to University of Texas
usage and heat generation, two critical formance by handling more work in assistant professor Steven Keckler. He
problems. Even performance-enhanc- parallel, as Figure 1 shows. said each core in a typical multicore
ing approaches like running multiple “Multicore chips are the biggest chip includes everything a micro-
instructions per thread have bottomed change in the PC programming model processor has except level-2 cache
out. since Intel introduced the 32-bit 386 memory and the memory hierarchy,
For these reasons, processor perfor- architecture,” stated Gwennap. which is located elsewhere on the sili-
mance increases have begun slowing. “Multicores are a way to extend con for all the cores to use.
Chip performance increased 60 per- Moore’s law so that the user gets more
cent per year in the 1990s but slowed performance out of a piece of silicon,” Divvying up the work
to 40 percent per year from 2000 to said John Williams, Advanced Micro “The compiler handles the schedul-
2004, when performance increased by Devices’ technical director for server ing of instructions for a program,” said
only 20 percent, according to Linley microprocessor planning. Bill Roth, vice-president of product
Group president Linley Gwennap. Chip makers AMD, IBM, Intel, and marketing for software vendor BEA
“We could build a slightly faster Sun are now introducing multicore Systems.
chip, but it would cost twice the die chips for servers, desktops, and laptops. The operating system controls the
area while gaining only a 20 percent overall assignment of tasks in a multi-
speed increase,” noted Marc Tremblay, DRIVING MULTIPLE CORES core processor. Based on this, either the
chief architect for Sun Microsystems’ Current transistor technology limits OS or a multithreaded application
Scalable Systems Group. the ability to continue making single parcels out work to the multiple cores.
In response, manufacturers are processor cores more powerful. Generally, when a multicore proces-
building chips with multiple cooler- For example, as a transistor gets sor has completed a task, one core takes
running, more energy-efficient pro- smaller, the gate, which switches the the completed data from the other cores
cessing cores instead of one in- electricity on and off, gets thinner and and assembles the final result.

Published by the IEEE Computer Society May 2005 11

I n d u s t r y Tr e n d s

ticore capabilities because it anticipated

that the technology would become
(based of benchmarks) viable and developed its architecture
several years ago with that in mind.

Multicore Intel is working on 16 multicore-
chip projects.
Two Pentium chips will use the dual-
Single core core technology code-named Smithfield.
Intel’s high-end PC chip, the Pentium
2000 2004 2008 Processor Extreme Edition 840, has
begun shipping and runs at 3.2 GHz but
Figure 1. Multicore chips perform better—based on Intel tests using the SPECint2000 and outperforms today’s high-end, single-
SPECfp2000 benchmarks—than single-core processors. And, Intel says, multicore chips’ core, 3.8-GHz Pentium 4. The Pentium
relative advantage will increase during the next few years. D, slated for release this year, will be a
mainstream desktop chip.
Working with applications Advantages Intel plans to release two dual-core
To take advantage of multicore chips, When a single-core chip runs multi- Xeon server and workstation proces-
vendors must redesign applications so ple programs, it assigns a time slice to sors early next year: Xeon MP chips
that the processor can run them as mul- work on one program and then assigns for servers running at least four proces-
tiple threads. “It is more challenging to different time slices for others, noted sors and Xeon DP chips for servers and
create software that is multithreaded,” assistant professor Keckler. This can workstations.
noted AMD’s Williams. cause conflicts, errors, or slowdowns A dual-core Itanium server chip
Programmers must find good places when the processor must perform mul- scheduled for release later this year will
to break up the applications, divide the tiple tasks simultaneously. contain 1.7 billion transistors. It will
work into roughly equal pieces that “If you have multiple tasks that all be Intel’s first processor with more
can run at the same time, and deter- have to run at the same time, you will than 1 billion transistors. Intel has not
mine the best times for the threads to see a boost with multicore processors,” released information about the chip’s
communicate with one another. said Keckler. For example, the chips clock speed.
Vendors also must redesign applica- could use a separate core for each task. Intel has developed energy-saving
tions so that they can recognize each Because the chips’ cores are on the dynamic power-coordination technol-
core’s speed and memory-access capa- same die, they can share architectural ogy that, when workloads permit, lets
bilities as well as how fast cores can components, such as memory elements the OS tell one processing core to sleep
communicate with one another. and memory management. They thus or slow down while the other works.
Intel provides a Threading Toolkit have fewer components and lower Intel plans to integrate DPC, which
to help game and other software devel- costs than systems running multiple would extend battery life, into Yonah,
opers design multithreaded applica- chips. Also, the signaling between the company’s first dual-core laptop
tions to be used on its new chips. cores can be faster and use less elec- chip. Yonah is slated for release later
tricity than on multichip systems. this year.
Memory cache approaches In 2002, Intel introduced its hyper-
Each of the two cores in AMD’s MULTIPLE MULTICORE EFFORTS threading technology, now supported
Opteron and Intel’s Itanium chips for Several companies are making or by Windows XP and most Linux
servers and workstations will have its planning to make multicore chips. releases. Hyperthreading lets multi-
own cache. IBM, on the other hand, threaded software’s threads execute in
doesn’t use separate caches in its mul- AMD parallel on a single core, thereby
ticore server chips. AMD will release Opteron enter- improving performance.
Separate caches eliminate the extra prise-server multicore first, then the Hyperthreading accomplishes this by
work needed to design chips so that Athlon 64 and Sempron desktop chips, enabling more efficient use of all exe-
multiple cores can work with a single, and finally Turion mobile chips. “We cution units—including arithmetic
centralized cache. In some chip will ship them all this year,” said logic units and floating-point units—in
designs, though, single caches can Williams. a core. The technology also informs the
function more rapidly than multiple AMD says it didn’t have to change its OS that it supports multiple threads
caches. chip architecture to accommodate mul- and coordinates their execution.

12 Computer
IBM released the industry’s first Are Multicore Processors One or Many Chips?
dual-core server chip, the Power 4, in
2001. Last year, it introduced the dual- Software vendors charge customers in various ways for using their prod-
core Power 5, which runs four times ucts. One prominent practice is to charge customers for each processor that will
faster than its predecessor. run the software. A customer running an application on 20 machines with sin-
IBM, Sony, and Toshiba have com- gle-core processors would thus pay a set amount per chip.
pleted design of the Cell processor A key issue for multicore-chip makers such as Intel is whether software ven-
optimized for compute-intensive work- dors will consider a processor to be a single core or an entire chip.
loads, broadband data transmission, Intel defines a processor as a unit that plugs into a single socket on the
and multimedia processing. The com- motherboard, regardless of whether it has one or more cores, and advocates
panies plan to begin production dur- that software vendors charge accordingly, explained Jeff Austin, the company’s
ing the second half of this year, said desktop product manager.
Ted Maeurer, IBM’s lead Cell software Microsoft and Novell agree and don’t charge extra for using their software
engineer. on multicore processors.
They designed Cell for use in con- BEA Systems and Oracle, on the other hand, charge more to use their soft-
sumer-entertainment devices such as the ware on multicore chips for per-processor licensing. “Customers get added
Sony PlayStation III game console. The performance benefit by running our software on a chip with two cores, so we
companies plan to implement the chip charge a fraction of the single CPU price for additional cores,” said Bill Roth,
this year in an IBM-Sony workstation the company’s vice president of product marketing.
primarily for handling computer ani- Multicore-chip makers are concerned that this type of policy will hurt their
mation and other demanding graphics products’ sales.
tasks, and next year in a Sony-Toshiba
high-definition TV and a Sony server.
Cell will use one 64-bit Power core have eight cores, each handling four to multicore chips will occur during the
to run the operating system, divide up threads. It will also feature compilers next two years. However, this could
tasks, and assign them to eight 128-bit that will generate parallel threads auto- give the semiconductor industry time
processing cores optimized for the matically from an application. The OS to find new ways to improve single-
floating-point matrix algebra associ- could then map these threads to the core chip technology via, for example,
ated with computer entertainment and hardware automatically, Tremblay exotic materials and advanced manu-
rich media. The processor will have explained. facturing techniques.
considerable bus bandwidth between The per-processor fees that enter-
cores and to memory. prise-software vendors charge their
The first version will run at about n the future, manufacturers will customers could be a challenge to mul-
4.6 GHz and perform 256 Gflops. It
will use IBM’s silicon-on-insulator
technology, in which pure crystal sili-
I make their multicore chips faster by
increasing the speed of each core, as
Sun is already doing. During the next
ticore chips’ success, as the “Are
Multicore Processors One or Many
Chips?” sidebar explains.
con sits on pure silicon-oxide insula- few years, said AMD’s Williams, the Nonetheless, Williams expressed
tion. The purity lets the chips operate decrease in chips’ feature sizes from optimism and said, “Multiple cores are
faster, more efficiently, and cooler. today’s 90 nanometers to 65 nanome- the new megahertz. Multicore will be
ters will leave room for more cores. the transition from brute-force perfor-
Sun Multicore processors will find a nat- mance to architectural elegance.” ■
In 1999, Sun released the Micro- ural home in servers, said Keckler, but
processor Architecture for Java Com- won’t be very useful on the desktop
puting dual-core, multimedia, desktop until vendors develop considerably David Geer is a freelance technology
chip. MAJC was never widely adopted more multithreaded software. writer based in Ashtabula, Ohio. Con-
as a desktop processor but has been Until this occurs, Williams said, sin- tact him at
used as an embedded-systems chip. gle-core chips will continue to com-
Sun has since built UltraSparc IV dual- pete. Also, he added, single-core chips
core server chips. are inexpensive to manufacture, so
Now, Sun’s Tremblay said, the com- they will continue to be popular for Editor: Lee Garber, Computer,
pany is working on the Niagara multi- lower-priced PCs for a while.
core chip for high-end servers. Planned According to the Linley Group’s
for release early next year, Niagara will Gwennap, the widespread transition

May 2005 13