Researchers at a Scottish claim to have made a breakthrough in the drive towards more powerful processors while conserving energy too. They have created an ultra-fast computer chip which is 20 times faster than current desktop computers.
While modern PCs have a processor with two, four or sometimes 16 cores to carry out tasks, the central processing unit (CPU) developed by Scottish researchers effectively had 1,000 cores on a single chip.
The developments could usher in a new age of high-speed computing in the next few years for home users frustrated with slow-running systems.
And the new ‘super’ computer is much greener than modern machines – using far less power – despite its high speed.
Scientists used a chip called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) which like all microchips contains millions of transistors – the tiny on-off switches which are the foundation of any electronic circuit.
But FPGAs can be configured into specific circuits by the user, rather than their function being set at a factory.
This enabled the team to divide up the transistors within the chip into small groups and ask each to perform a different task.
By creating more than 1,000 mini-circuits within the FPGA chip, the researchers effectively turned the chip into a 1,000-core processor – each core working on its own instructions.
The chip was able to process around five gigabytes of data per second in testing – making it approximately 20 times faster than modern computers.
The team was led by Dr Wim Vanderbauwhede, of the University of Glasgow, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“FPGAs are not used within standard computers because they are fairly difficult to program but their processing power is huge while their energy consumption is very small because they are so much quicker – so they are also a greener option,” said Dr Wim Vanderbauwhede.
While most computers sold today now contain more than one processing core, which allows them to carry out different processes simultaneously, traditional multi-core processors must share access to one memory source, which slows the system down.
The research scientists were able to make the processor faster by giving each core a certain amount of dedicated memory.
“This is very early proof-of-concept work where we’re trying to demonstrate a convenient way to program FPGAs so that their potential to provide very fast processing power could be used much more widely in future computing and electronics,” Dr Vanderbauwhede said.
He continued: “While many existing technologies currently make use of FPGAs, including plasma and LCD televisions and computer network routers, their use in standard desk-top computers is limited.”
“However, we are already seeing some microchips which combine traditional CPUs with FPGA chips being announced by developers, including Intel and ARM.”
“I believe these kinds of processors will only become more common and help to speed up computers even further over the next few years.”
Dr Vanderbauwhede hopes to present his research at the International Symposium on Applied Reconfigurable Computing in March next year. [via Daily Mail (UK)]