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Extreme CPUs: 430 cores on a die

World's meanest chip?

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British start-up picoChip has announced an extreme processor with 430 16bit cores on a die, and is testing the first silicon.

It's a pretty radical and interesting approach, which involves a massively parallel array of four different kinds of processors, each of which picoChip reckons is equivalent to an ARM 9, linked by a switch. The company boasts a former ARM board member and a clutch of experienced executives from TI, Philips, Marconi and several of the senior management from Oak.

picoChip reckons that its picoArray approach is cheaper than ASICs, and much faster than conventional DSP/FPGA combos. The first 160Mhz part, it claims, is 19x faster than TI's 600Mhz TMS320C6415.

"The architecture supports dedicated resource allocation, and is software programmable," Steve Barraclough, picoChip VP of business development told us. But developers can verify at the point of compilation. The picoArray can be partitioned on the fly, according to the resources required.

It's aimed at a lucrative niche: 3G base stations. Barraclough says picoChip will talk to anyone but thinks the biggest market will be WCDMA.

"Twenty to thirty per cent of the bill of materials is in baseband processing, and standards are still not fixed," he said.

Other uses for picoArrays could be 802.11 access points or real time crypto or image processing. It also supplies the compilers, tools and software.

The company says NEC demonstrated a 512-core CPU at the recent Microprocessor Forum, but that these were 8-bit cores. IBM has hundreds or cores at the heart of Deep Blue and ASCI White.

So for now, this appears to be the most powerful processor captivity.®

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