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Coprocessors ride again

Hybrid-core computing

server room

The idea that hybrid computing is becoming a mainstream technology was one of the major threads running through SC09 last week. Convey Computer, founded in 2006, has a different take on how to best implement hybrid architectures, to deliver better performance and to simplify use.

Its approach is to add an FPGA coprocessor that works in concert with the standard x86 processor, much like the old math coprocessors did back in the early days of personal computers. To make this work, Convey has come up with some extensions (called personalities) to the standard x86 instruction set that add instructions to allow use of the coprocessor.

When code is compiled using the Convey compiler, the result is a unified set of code that utilizes the coprocessor to run the highly parallel processes. These Convey personalities are also customized to take into account the type of processing desired (single precision vector, financial vector, protein sequencing, etc.) Roaming the show floor at SC09, I cornered a Convey booth attendant and grabbed a quick interview and an overview of its newest product. The result was a badly produced short video that you can see here...

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