Researchers At Princeton University Managed To Build An Open Source 25-Core Processor

Great news for the open-source community. Researchers at one of the world’s most renowned universities, Princeton, managed to construct 25-core CPU called Piton.

The processor can scale, enabling the construction of 200,000-core supercomputer built from 8,000 Piton units. The main advantages of Piton are a high level of flexibility and huge scaling potential. The processor is based on an OpenSparc design, a modified version of OpenSparc T1 processor built by Oracle.

Image Credit: Princeton University

Image Credit: Princeton University

This announcement came recently, during the Hot Chips conference earlier this week. While the plans for building a supercomputer out of Piton cores is still relatively far away, it’s still a great accomplishment, allowing Universities around the world to build their own superclusters.

One of the advancements of open-source design philosophy is that companies can easily take the core architecture, modify it, and at the end make their own chips at factories. SPARC architecture is currently used by Oracle for its high-end database servers, but the problem is that more and more companies are abandoning this design in favor of more modern choices, such is ARM.

If we look at chip details, it can be found that one chip has twenty-five cores divided into five lines (5 cores per one cluster), a single core works at 1GHz, which isn’t much for today’s standards, but if you multiply it by twenty-five, the chip becomes very powerful, of course only for operations supporting high number of threads.

Multiple chips can be daisy-chained through a “bridge,” that also links chips to DRAM and storage space. Each of the cores has a measly 64KB of L2 cache, making a total cache amount per chip 1.6 MB. The one thing unique about Piton is its distributed cache and unidirectional links. These two features can pull all of the cores together, in a large server for instance.

Piton as well features mini-router built into each core, allowing for fast inter-core communication, and a floating point unit (also built into each core) will allow large-scale parallel computing. Researchers said that Piton is currently the largest chip in the whole University. Piton is based on IBM’s 32-nm production process and features 460 million transistors. While this number is relatively low (modern home GPUs have billions of transistors), by scaling Piton is capable of doing some serious tasks.

This news just further proves that chips aren’t made just by big-name companies, and facilitating this way of chip construction can shave costs of building a University-wide supercomputer, giving researchers more computing power when doing various experiments.

It’s worth noting that mass-market chips will offer a similar number of cores in the near future. For instance, AMD is constructing their new Zen architecture at the moment, an architecture that’ll bring CPU with up to 32 cores. On the other side, Intel is getting ready to release their new generation of Xeon E7 server-based processors that will sport up to 24 cores. Both of these architectures should be released sometime during next year.

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