Intel debuts the 48-core processor


Having just bought my first multi-core PC, I was mightily impressed with the idea of more efficient multitasking, being able to carry on working while a video file was transcoded or converted to DVD, and knowing that if some sneaky program decides to suck up all the CPU’s attention, its havoc would be limited.

I’d also looked at the issue of whether to get dual-, tri- or quad-core: the latter two weren’t for me, but I could see the advantages for avid gamers or people using Photoshop professionally.

What I didn’t realise was that I was WAY behind the curve. Intel has just demonstrated a frankly mindboggling 48-core chip. Yes, that’s effectively 48 processors on a single chip, around the size of a postage stamp.

As you’d imagine, these aren’t coming to your desktop PC anytime soon, which is a shame: imagine giving Firefox a dedicated core for each tab and seeing how it reacts when it learns that even a severe bout of CPU greed wouldn’t cause any disruption.

Instead it would most likely be used for servers behind online software services. One major advantage of the chip is that even with all 48 cores running, it only consumes around 125 watts of power, roughly the same as a single-core chip.

Although the chip won’t run 48 times quicker than its single-core equivalent, it will be somewhere around 10 to 20 times more powerful. That could change what we think of as possible in a computer: Intel believes that it could make image processing so fast that it would be possible to control a PC with visual actions.

The way the demonstration chip is made means that technically it should be compatible with current editions of Linux systems and Windows. It’s already had the thumbs-up from Microsoft’s Dan Reed, a man I mention mainly to note his job title: vice-president of extreme computing.

Intel will now build 100 of the chips for businesses and researchers around the world to try out in the hope of developing software which can make the best use of the technology.

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