/ 19 March 2008

Microsoft, Intel research chips with US universities

Microsoft and Intel said on Tuesday they are teaming with United States universities to unleash the mighty potential of multicore computer chips.

Microsoft and Intel will jointly spend $20-million over five years to fund universal parallel computing research centres at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A recent trend is to increase computing power but reduce electricity use and heat production by crafting multiple processors, or computer brains, into each chip.

Designing software and support architecture that best enables such chips to divide tasks equally among the brains, or cores, in ways that let them simultaneously tend to jobs and maximise computing speeds has proved daunting.

”It is important for industry to work in tandem with academia to unleash the immense power of parallel computing,” said Microsoft Research vice-president Tony Hey.

”Working jointly with industry and academia, we plan to explore the next generation of hardware and software to unlock the promise and the power of parallel computing and enable a change in the way people use technology.”

Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices already market chips with two or four cores and say it is likely the number will rise. Intel researchers have made an 80-core research processor.

”We’re quickly moving the computing industry to a many-core world,” said Intel Research director Andrew Chien. ”Working with Microsoft and these two prestigious universities will help catalyse the long-term breakthroughs that are needed to enable dramatic new applications for the mainstream user.”

Harnessing the power of multicore chips will let computers ”bridge the physical world with the virtual”, according to Chien. He expects ”efficient and robust” applications for digital media, data analysis and internet-enabled mobile devices.

Predicted research breakthroughs include software enabling people’s cellphone to recognise faces of approaching acquaintances and whisper their names to users.

Another foreseeable application is described as voice-recognition software so accurate it could be used to record witness testimony in courtroom proceedings.

”This is a once-in-a-career opportunity to recast the foundations of information technology and influence the entire IT industry for decades to come,” said UC Berkeley professor of computer sciences David Patterson.

The universities will have to provide millions of dollars in funding for the centres in what is said to be an unprecedented parallel computing research alliance. — Sapa-AFP