faster Power6, CELL and other processors at ISSCC



A peek at faster Power6, Cell chips

At a chip show, IBM to tout 5GHz-topping Power6 and next-gen 6GHz Cell.
Intel to detail a 4GHz, 80-core prototype.

By Stephen Shankland
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: December 29, 2006, 8:14 AM PST

Judging by details revealed in a chip conference agenda, the clock
frequency race isn't over yet.

IBM's Power6 processor will be able to exceed 5 gigahertz in a
high-performance mode, and the second-generation Cell Broadband Engine
processor from IBM, Sony and Toshiba will run at 6GHz, according to the
program for the International Solid State Circuits Conference that
begins February 11 in San Francisco.

Chipmakers have run into problems increasing chip clock
speed--essentially an electronic heartbeat that synchronizes operations
in a processor--because higher frequencies have led to unmanageable
power consumption and waste heat.

To compensate, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have turned instead to
the addition of multiple processing cores on each slice of silicon.
That's effective when computers are juggling numerous tasks at the same
time, but increasing the clock speed means an individual task can run

The first-generation Cell Broadband Engine chip, co-developed by IBM,
Sony, and Toshiba, has just appeared in Sony's PlayStation 3 game
console and can run at 4GHz. The second-generation chip will run at
6GHz, according to the ISSCC program. In addition, the new chip will
have a dual power supply that increases memory performance--a major
bottleneck in computer designs today.

For servers, IBM has said its Power6 processor, due to ship in servers
in 2007, will run between 4GHz and 5GHz. But in the ISSCC program, Big
Blue said the chip's clock will tick at a rate "over 5GHz in
high-performance applications." In addition, the chip "consumes under
100 watts in power-sensitive applications," a power range comparable to
mainstream 95-watt AMD Opteron chips and 80-watt Intel Xeon chips.

Power6 has 700 million transistors and measures 341 square millimeters,
according to the program. The smaller that a chip's surface area is,
the more that can be carved out of a single silicon wafer, reducing
per-chip manufacturing costs and therefore making a computer more
competitive. Power6, like the second-generation Cell, is built with a
manufacturing process with 65-nanometer circuitry elements, letting
more electronics be squeezed onto a given surface area.

Intel isn't standing idly by, though. In September, Intel showed a
glimpse of a prototype chip with 80 cores that can perform a trillion
mathematical calculations per second. At ISSCC, the company will shed
more details on the design, including an updated speed measurement of
1.28 trillion calculations per second.

The chip measures 275 square millimeters--smaller than the
303-square-millimeter area indicated in September--and runs at 4GHz,
according to the program. The chip, which Intel describes as a
"network-on-chip architecture," has 100 million transistors and
dissipates 98 watts of waste heat. Intel called each core a tile and
said each has network switch features to route packets of data.

"It was designed as a research tool to test interconnect strategies for
many-core processors," Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields said. Research
goals for the project included testing new chip design methods and
investigating "how to move terabytes of data rapidly between cores
on-chip and between the cores and memory." She added that the prototype
can't run conventional software for Intel chips.

Among other processor-related talks at the show:

· Sun Microsystems will discuss its Niagara 2 processor, an
eight-core design that can run 64 simultaneous sequences of
instructions, called threads. The chip measures 342 square millimeters
and has 500 million transistors, according to the program.

· P.A. Semi, a start-up that designs chips compatible with IBM's
Power designs, also plans to detail its chip, a dual-core design that
consumes a maximum of 25 watts and that runs at 2GHz. The chip measures
115 square millimeters, according to the program.

· Advanced Micro Devices will discuss its quad-core Barcelona, due to
arrive in mid-2007.

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