Adapteva release a 1024 cores processor
By   |  October 18, 2016

Competition in the HPC processor continue with Adapteva, a specialist in the design of energy efficient accelerator chips and compute modules, announcing a 1024 core processor – thanks, in part to a grant from the US, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In fact the development of the chip was funded by DARPA, which played a significant role in the development of technologies like GPS and the internet. DARPA has also funded wild ideas that never came to fruition, but Epiphany V looks like it will eventually be available in servers or boards.

Adapteva claims that its latest mega-chip called Epiphany V will have enough juice to outperform some of the latest gaming and server processors. But the Epiphany V chip isn’t designed for gaming:

“It’s aimed more at real-time image processing, autonomous driving, machine learning and autonomous drones, which ‘require an order of magnitude boost in processing efficiency to unlock their true potentials” according to Andreas Olofsson, CEO, and Founder at Adapteva.

“A hardware enthusiast could build a Linux PC with it, though the chip isn’t really designed for PC-type use”, Olofsson said.

The chip ‘Epiphany-V’ contains an array of 1024 64-bit RISC processors, 64MB of on-chip SRAM, three 136-bit wide mesh Networks-On-Chip, and 1024 programmable IO pins. The chip has taped out and is being manufactured by TSMC. Each node in the processor array is a complete RISC processor capable of running an operating system (“MIMD”). Epiphany uses a flat cache-less memory model, in which all distributed memory is readable and writable by all processors in the system. This fifth generation of the Epiphany product line includes new capabilities compared to previous iterations including; 64-bit memory addressing, 64-bit floating point operations, 2X the memory per processor, and custom ISAs for deep learning, communication, and cryptography.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are building mega data centers to handle a growing number of social media and cloud applications. But these servers also handle image recognition and natural language processing putting them under more stress with the growing influx of data. Olofsson argues the Epiphany V will deliver more performance per watt and square millimeter than x86 chips. Basically, that performance enhancement will help smaller servers do more.

The Epiphany V is based on the RISC architecture, which is different than the x86. The chip is now being manufactured, and it could be tested in computers in the coming months. Availability of the chips could be announced next year. Technically, Epiphany V is a milestone in the number of cores that be put on CPUs. Adding cores became a trend when AMD showed the first dual-core x86 chip in 2004. However, one of the first multicore chips was a Power4 processor from IBM back in 2001. Putting more cores was an alternative to cranking up the clock speed of CPUs, which caused chips to draw more power.

But along with more cores came the challenge of making programs work in parallel. Programming frameworks like OpenCL, which is supported by Epiphany V, have helped write code that harnesses the joint computing power of many cores. The Epiphany V design makes it easy to run applications in parallel. It has a mesh topology, and cores are networked to facilitate communications. It has shared memory accessible to all cores. The topography ensures there is cache coherency, which is important in chips loaded with cores and memory. The shared memory support can expand to more Epiphany chips.

Some key details, like overall power consumption, aren’t yet known. The power efficiency of the chips determines motherboard and server design, and also the effective performance per watt of the chip. For example, the 1,000-core KiloCore is so power-efficient that it can run on a single AA battery, the UC Davis researchers claimed.

Adapteva has released Epiphany chips previously, and also shipped the US $99 Parallella board computer with a previous Epiphany chip. The company turned to Kickstarter for funding to develop the board and shipped more than 10,000 units. Olofsson didn’t detail how he’d commercialize the new Epiphany V chip.

“Future work will focus on extending and customising the Epiphany-V SOC platform for specific target applications” concluded Olofsson.

More technical information on Adapteva Epiphany V

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