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Tilera wins VC from Broadcom, Quanta, NTT

Cash for homegrown multicores

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Last November, El Reg told you about how multicore chip maker Tilera was lining up its third round of venture capital funding, a $25m pile of cash that would include $10m from Taiwanese PC maker and server wannabe Quanta Computer. On Monday, when the funding finally closed, it turned out that chip maker Broadcom and the financing arm of Japanese telco NTT are also kicking in some dough.

Tilera sells homegrown, multicore chips with up to 100 cores and a mesh network interconnecting those cores. The chips support Linux at the 2.6.26 kernel level and an open source stack that includes Apache, PHP and MySQL, as well as the GNU GCC compilers and the C/C++ compilers that Tilera has licensed from Silicon Graphics. (This is what leads everyone to believe that the Tilera chips are variants of the MIPS architecture once controlled by SGI.)

The current 36-core Tile and 64-core TilePro processors are systems on a chip, as are the Tile-GX series of chips that will span up to 100 cores when they ship in late 2010. They include everything but the DDR3 main memory needed to make a system, including integrated controllers for main memory, networks and peripherals. (You can read all the feeds and speeds of the Tile-GX family, which were announced in October 2009, here). And by the end of the year, Java will run on them as well. While the Tile processors do not have floating point units, they can tackle any task that uses integer math.

The current processors have made some design wins among networking, wireless infrastructure, and communications equipment providers, but the Tile-Gx series is going to give gear makers a slew of different options. Tilera claims that its 100-core Tile-Gx processor will have about four times the oomph of a Xeon 5500 processor (four core, eight threads). The Tile-GX100 will run at 55 watts instead of 95 watts for the X5570 part from Intel (with a 1.5 GHz clock speed compared to the Xeon's 2.93 GHz) and will cost only $1,000, compared to $1,400 for a Xeon chip bought in single units.

It is not clear why NTT Financing is intrigued by the Tile processors and mesh interconnect, but Quanta said last fall that it was planning on using the Tile-Gx processors in a future line of servers running Linux that would be aimed specifically at cloud computing service providers who just want a Linux stack and don't much care what the instruction set is.

Server makers should stop and think for a minute. Quanta, one of the largest contract PC manufacturers in the world, is interested in getting into servers and more importantly in abandoning the x64 instruction set and circumventing the tier one and whitebox server makers, who by and large ship x64 chips. They may even decide to license Tile-Gx technology themselves, given the scalability and performance per watt claims Tilera is making concerning its chips. Quanta already makes 1U and 2U servers and motherboards as well as doing OEM and ODM manufacturing for a variety of server, switch, and VOIP gear providers.

The $25m venture round was delayed by the shenanigans that came to light at chip maker Broadcom, whose ex-CEO and co-founder, Henry Nicholas, was indicted in a sleaze-ridden stock back-dating scandal in June 2008 by shareholders in California. Nicholas eventually beat those charges in mid-December last year, when prosecutors were found to have improperly influenced witnesses and to have leaked the lurid details surrounding the case to the press. In late December last year, the company settled a related backdating lawsuit emanating from New Mexico for $160m. Once all of that was done and the dust settled, Broadcom could refocus on investing in Tilera.

According to a spokesperson at Tilera, the Broadcom investment in the mesh processor maker was not tied to any specific opportunities or products, but the companies do have synergies, especially in the networking area where networking gear often has a processor, such as the one from Tilera, and other chips from Broadcom. Both companies also use Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp as their fab, which would make collaboration on future products easier too.

To date, Tilera has raised $64m in funds and hopes to generate revenues from cloud computing in 2010 and hit break-even in 2011. ®

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