Category: Chips

Princeton boffins come up with open source super-chip

mad scientistPrinceton University researchers have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new open source computer chip that promises to boost the performance of data centres.

Dubbed “Piton” after the metal spikes driven by rock climbers into mountainsides to aid in their ascent the chip was shown off at the Hot Chips conference.

The Princeton researchers designed their chip specifically for massive computing systems. Piton could substantially increase processing speed while slashing energy usage. The chip architecture is scalable — designs can be built that go from a dozen to several thousand cores.

The architecture enables thousands of chips to be connected into a single system containing millions of cores.

David Wentzlaff, a Princeton assistant professor of electrical engineering and associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science said that Piton was based on a new thinking about computer architecture.  It was built specifically for data centers and the cloud.

“The chip we’ve made is among the largest chips ever built in academia and it shows how servers could run far more efficiently and cheaply.”

The current version of the Piton chip measures six millimetres by six millimetres and has 460 million transistors, each of which are as small as 32 nanometres.

The bulk of these transistors are contained in 25 cores. Most personal computer chips have four or eight cores.

In recent years companies and academic institutions have produced chips with many dozens of cores — but the readily scalable architecture of Piton can enable thousands of cores on a single chip with half a billion cores in the data centre, Wentzlaff said.

“What we have with Piton is really a prototype for future commercial server systems that could take advantage of a tremendous number of cores to speed up processing,” Wentzlaff said.

At a data centre, multiple users often run programs that rely on similar operations at the processor level. The Piton chip’s cores can recognise these instances and execute identical instructions consecutively, so that they flow one after another. Doing so can increase energy efficiency by about 20 percent compared to a standard core, the researchers said.

Piton chip parcels out when competing programs access computer memory that exists off of the chip so they do not clog the system. This approach can yield an 18 percent increase in performance compared to conventional means of allocation.

The Piton chip also gains efficiency by its cache memory management. In most designs, cache memory is shared across all of the chip’s cores. But when multiple cores access and modify the cache memory it is less efficient. Piton assigns areas of the cache and specific cores to dedicated applications. The researchers say the system can increase efficiency by 29 percent per chip.

Wentzlaff said. “We’re also happy to give out our design to the world as open source, which has long been commonplace for software, but is almost never done for hardware.”

Arista Networks loses appeal against Cisco’s trade ban

the Cisco kidThe U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC)  has upheld an import ban on Arista Networks ethernet switches which it thinks infringe Cisco’s patents.

The decision follows a complaint from  Cisco filed in December 2014 about the switches, which are used in computer data centres and servers.

In a blog post on the company’s website on Monday, Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler said the import ban was to start on Tuesday. The ITC said Arista infringed three Cisco patents relating to managing and securing communications networks. The ruling excludes the import of Arista’s network devices, including its 7000 series of switches, which generates most of that company’s product revenue. It also prevents the sale of domestic supplies of the imported products.

Arista’s general counsel, Marc Taxay, said the company has redesigned the software in its switches and believes it is in “full compliance” with the ITC’s orders.

“Our primary focus remains the continued supply of non-infringing products to our customers,” he said.

Arista also said it would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Arista has not received approval from the ITC for the redesigned products.

 

ARM has a new chip for data centres

Eniac-USarmyPhoto700A few weeks after Japanese company Softbank said it would buy ARM for $32 billion. ARM is expected to announce a design to crash into the server and Internet of Things market.

The chip design is being detailed at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California today.

It looks like ARM has got the nod to build a new supercomputer based on the new chip design which will be installed in Japan. The Post-K supercomputer will be developed by Fujitsu, which dropped SPARC architecture for ARM for high-performance computers. Fujitsu helped ARM develop the new chip.

Post-K will be 50 to 100 times speedier than its predecessor, the K Computer, which is currently the fifth fastest computer in the world.

The new ARM processor design will be based on the 64-bit ARM-v8A architecture and have vector processing extensions called Scalable Vector Extension. Vector processors drove early supercomputers, which then shifted over to less expensive IBM RISC chips in the early 1990s, and on to general-purpose x86 processors, which are in most high-performance servers today.

Goodbye Intel.

Intel reaches Nervana for its intelligence

In_Utero_(Nirvana)_album_coverChipzilla has decided that AI smells a bit like teen spirit and is going to write a cheque for Nervana Systems.

Intel is tsarting to see AI as the next big thing and it is buying in expertise. Nervana which has not been the same since its lead singer killed himself appears to have got itself involved with cutting edge AI reseach [are you sure that is the name Nervana? Ed].

Intel wrote in its bog that the buy out will help develop Intel’s artificial intelligence portfolio and enhance the deep learning performance of Intel Xeon and Intel Xeon Phi processors.

The company is led by former Qualcomm researcher Naveen Rao and has raised $25 million in venture funding and also has a contract to work with In-Q-tel, the U.S. intelligence community’s venture arm.

It has not said how much it paid for the company but investors in Nervana include Global Playground, CME Ventures, Lux Capital, Allen & Co and AME Cloud Ventures so it looks like a large amount of money must have changed hands. It has been rumoured that Intel had to pay $350 million,

 

 

Flash Memory Summit 2016 – Consolidation?

FMS2016_BannerAd_300x250The Flash Memory Summit 16 will be convening at the Santa Clara Convention Center over August 9 -11, 2016. Flash memory is now established as a key technology enabling new designs for many products in the consumer, computer and enterprise markets.

Storage Crossover

The industry is at a critical juncture where the total cost of ownership for flash based SSD’s achieved crossover with hard disk drive equivalents last September as the enterprise storage medium of choice.

The fact that the number of producers is limited has altered the landscape of consumption with some analysts indicating that serious shortages will exist for some time to come. An interesting, but mitigating fact is that most of the analysts are not technical – the ones that we’ve talked to that have a technical bent are not so sanguine about the availability mix. One item that stands in the road to profits is the need for this next generation storage device to not only retain data but do so interactively without losing bits. The unrecoverable bit boogie man is now staring the industry down. The ability to store immense amounts of “ready data” for execution now depends on the technologies ability to reliably retain data.

All Flash Array producers are now entering the “really big data storage array” market – the battle has dropped down to the cost of storage per dollar creating a whole new category of marketing lows. 3D Flash is now so dense that failure modes are now dependent upon being aware of “how and when” the bits were used during the entire lifetime of the device.

Cork, Ireland NVMdurance was the first to understand this phenomenon and is now firmly embedded in their first customer Altera (now Intel). Pure and Nimble Storage are offering their services for their AFAs – seems that leasing AFA memory is a probable in the future of solid state storage. We’re still left reading the indemnification clauses of their contracts.

Poison Pill

Micron Technology filed with the SEC a poison pill last Friday. The buzz is that the company is once again in play. The likely suitor is none other than Intel according to the lead rumor. We will be talking with Micron and Intel at FMS 16 and although they’ll not say anything about what’s going on we’ll at the very least get to look into their pupils while they’re telling us…,

Nvidia releases answer to AMD’s Radeon RX 480

nvidiaNvidia just launched its Pascalish answer to AMD’s Radeon RX 480 mainstream card.

The GeForce GTX 1060 has about half of the resources of Nvidia’s super expensive GeForce GTX 1080 and the outfit claims it’s on par with a previous generation high-end GeForce GTX 980.

It runs on 120W and is a mix of low-power and high-performance. The new GeForce GTX 1060 features a new Pascal derivative GPU that’s somewhat smaller, called the GP106. It has 10 streaming multiprocessors (SM) with a total of 1280, single-precision CUDA cores and eight texture units.

The GeForce GTX 1060 also features six 32-bit memory controllers, for 192-bits in total. GeForce GTX 1060 cards with either 6GB or 3GB of GDDR5 memory will be available and offered performance that just misses the mark set by the pricier AMD Radeon R9 Nano.

The GeForce GTX 1060 has the largest leads over the Radeon RX 480 in the DirectX 11 tests, though the Radeon had a clear edge in OpenCL and managed to pull ahead in  some DirectX 12 tests.

The GeForce GTX 1060, however, consumes significantly less power than the Radeon RX 480 and is quieter too.

All up it means that Nvidia and AMD are squaring up with different offerings for a similar price

Samsung races ahead on mobiles

SamsungWhile the fruity cargo cult Apple flounders in the mobile area, its rival Samsung is doing rather well.

The outfit is poised to issue guidance for its best quarterly profit in more than two years, propelled by a surge in mobile earnings on the back of robust sales of its flagship Galaxy S7 smartphones.

The South Korean giant will disclose its estimates for second-quarter earnings on Thursday, with analysts predicting a strong mobile division contributed to a 13 percent jump in operating profit from the same period a year earlier.

Analysts are expecting to see a April-June operating profit of $6.8 billion which is the highest profit since January-March of 2014.  Even more oddly it is the mobile division which is making a lot of the cash

This is because Galaxy S7 sales are better than expected in the first half, and the semiconductor business is also outperforming rivals.

Samsung’s smartphone business had been squeezed before the start of this year between Apple  at the high end of the market, and Chinese rivals like Huawei in the budget segment. But the Galaxy S7 has provided a catalyst for the earnings rebound, likely putting the mobile business on track to record its first annual profit growth in three years.  Apple has also slumped in China and failed to come up with a new product for some time.

Some analysts say Samsung shipped around 16 million Galaxy S7s in April-June, with a higher-priced curved-screen version outselling its flat-screen counterpart and boosting margins. Lackluster sales of offerings from rivals such as Apple and LG Electronics also helped reduced marketing expenses, they said.

Samsung’s chip business has not been doing so well. Its quarterly profit sink to its lowest in nearly two years due to weak demand from makers of other smartphones and personal computers.

But signs of some price recovery for DRAM chips starting last month and Samsung’s dominance in the premium solid-state disc drive market with its 3D NAND chip production technology suggest a pickup in coming months, analysts said.

Polaris finally shines today

polarisAMD finally starts flogging its new RX 480 GPU today.

For those who came in late, the RX 480 uses the company’s latest Polaris architecture which is built lt on 14nm FinFET process technology.

The starting price is $199 for the 4GB model and $239 for the 8GB and has some interesting performance characteristics. Compared to the GeForce GTX 970 which sells for $280, the RX 480 performs is about five to ten percent better. But when it comes to DX12 games like Gears of War, Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider it is about 40 per cent faster.

Compared to previous AMD products, the RX 480 is as fast as a Radeon R9 390 but uses just 150 watts compared to 275 watts for the previous generation.

Rivals Nvidia are expected to have a competing product based on Pascal available sometime in July, so AMD’s advantage may be short-lived; but in the meantime, the Radeon RX 480 is clearly the best GPU for $200.

Of course the world is also waiting to see AMD’s entry into the CPU league tables with the much touted never seen Zen chip, which should be in the shops in December.

Apple not buying a lot of components

poison-appleIt looks like Apple has written off this year as an annus horribilis and is not buying nearly as many smartphone components.

According to Asian suppliers, Apple has cut the number of components down this quarter indicating that Apple things the market is going to be soft as a baby’s bottom.

The Tame Apple Press is having a job giving its favourite smartphone maker free publicity for the coming iPhone 7 because it looks like it is nearly identical to the iPhone 6S. It appears that Apple is not even trying.

Taiwanese chip firm Advanced Semiconductor Engineering warned that Apple was being more conservative in placing orders compared with last year.

Nikkei said that hat component suppliers in Taiwan would receive fewer orders from Apple in the second half of 2016.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs lowered its price target on Apple’s stock on worries about slowing growth in the smartphone industry.

At the time, the brokerage also lowered its fiscal 2016 forecast for iPhone shipments to 211 million units from 212 million units.

Apple reported its first-ever quarterly decline in iPhone sales in April and it is expected that the iPhone 7 will be a huge disappointment.  Apple’s shares have fallen 12.6 percent this year which is a little surprising given the amount of bad news the outfit has been doling out.

 

How Intel killed Microsoft’s Surface

microsoft-surface-3-02The dark satanic rumour mill has been noting how Microsoft’s popular Surface 3 is starting to disappear from the shelves.  All this suggests that Vole is planning to kill off the tablet.

However, it would appear that the Surface 3, which is a cheaper cut down version of the Surface Pro, might be a casualty of Intel’s Atexit earlier this year and its decision to cull Atom development.

The Surface Pro arrived last Spring with a Cherry Trail Atom under the bonnet. It was a serviceable, if not rather dull mobile chip.  Microsoft would normally be thinking of replacing it with something better about now and Intel would normally have complied by replacing it with something from the the “Broxton” family with a new Goldmont core.

Intel however gave up on most of its planned Broxton processors as it scaled back its investment in phone and tablet components. Some Airmont parts have been announced, but they have all been aimed at low-end desktops and laptops with processors in the 4-6 watt space, not tablets with 2W processors such as the Surface 3.

Intel could offer Vole its Core M parts, which would have given the Surface a substantial performance upgrade. However, that would represent price hike from $37 for the Atom to about $250 for a core M.  AMD does not have a chip in this range, and an ARM chip would break most of the Surface’s Windows software.