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Intel's lab crew makes case for 80-core world

CSI: It's optical

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CSI Drama

Keeping an 80-core chip happy proves tougher than you might think.

Each core wants access to on-chip memory and wants it fast. These hungry cores don't have time to go running across precious silicon real estate looking for data.

To address this problem, Intel's researchers have been hammering away on the concept of 3-D memory where the cache rests above the processor cores. This technique lets a core anywhere on a single slice of silicon tap the cache in just a couple of cycles rather than traversing the entire chip to reach the cache bank.

Intel's researchers have also pioneered technology in the field of silicon photonics.

Here Intel looks to replace the wires that connect data centers, server racks and even chip components with beams of light. (We profiled Intel's latest silicon photonics breakthrough in January.)

Intel has suggested that on-board silicon photonics technology remains years away, but the company has already produced systems dabbling with the technology.

We spied one board code-named Coalbrook (or CoalCreek: it was hard to tell as Intel's staff urged us away from the confidential systems) and another called Springville that had built-in optical modules. Both systems were identified as using Intel's upcoming CSI (common system interconnect) technology, which is the company's attempt to catch-up to AMD's Hypertransport/integrated memory controller technology.

For more on Intel's silicon photonics work, we urge you to check out the following interview with Mario Paniccia, a research director at Intel. You'll quickly get a picture of just how bright Intel's top staff are.

Here's Mario

How terable are these things?

Pundits have long hit Intel and AMD with critiques for pushing out ever-faster processors when Joe Public hardly needs a world-class chip to run basic applications.

We, however, tend to think that consumers and companies will always find new ways to gobble up cycles – usually once Microsoft makes it possible to do so. Such a scenario certainly holds true in the server game where there's an insatiable desire for more horsepower.

Will Intel's cute bubble popping software drive the need for these new chips? Well, no. But that's not really the point, is it? ®

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