Intel unveils experimental 'cloud computer' chip

Intel pushed the outer limits of computing this week by unveiling a new experimental processor it described as a single-chip cloud computer.

The chip features 48-core processor technology developed by Intel's Tera-scale Computing Research Program. It was co-created by Intel labs in India, Germany and the United States.

The company hopes to engage researchers in the coming year by providing more than 100 of the experimental chips for research and development. Those efforts will include developing new software and programming models based on the chip's technology.

Microsoft is also involved in the research, said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Extreme Computing Group. The company is exploring market opportunities in "intelligent resource management, system software design, programming models and tools, and future application scenarios," Reed said in a released statement.

The chip's connection to cloud computing was rather vaguely expressed in Intel's announcement. It states that computers and networks can be integrated on a single piece of 45 nanometer, high-k metal-gate silicon, which is about the size of a postage stamp.

The smaller size might be useful for crowded data centers. In addition, the chip might introduce new data input, processing and output possibilities.

"Computers are very good at processing data, but it requires humans to input that data and then analyze it," said Shane Rau, a program director at analyst firm IDC. "Intel is looking to speed up the computer-to-human interaction by basically getting the human element out of the way."

According to Intel, that kind of interaction could lead to the elimination of keyboards, mouse devices and even joysticks for computer gaming. Intel's announcement even suggested that future computers might be able to read brain waves, allowing users to control functions by simply thinking about them.

However, Rau said there's still room for slowed-down human processes.

"This process needs to be thought out very carefully, and that's one area where the slow [input/output] of humans may be an advantage," he said.

Intel developed the chip based on the company’s recognition, mining and synthesis (RMS) approach, Rau said.

"The technology announcement today is similar to Intel's announcement regarding an 80-core processor last year," Rau said in a telephone interview. "It's basically an effort known as RMS by Intel that puts silicon in the hands of the people and institutions that can create the building blocks for future computing devices and software."

The chip is only designed for research efforts at the moment, an Intel spokesperson said.

"There are no product plans for this chip. We will never sell it, so there won't be a price for it," the Intel spokesperson wrote in an e-mail message. "We will give about a hundred or more to industry partners like Microsoft and academia to help us research software development and learn on a real piece of hardware, [of] which nothing of its kind exists today."

About the Author

Herb Torrens is a freelance writer based in Southern California.

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