SAN FRANCISCO, 26 OCTOBER 2009 - Tilera on Monday announced new general-purpose CPUs, including a 100-core chip, as it tries to make its way into the server market dominated by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.
The two-year-old startup's Tile-GX series of chips are targeted at servers and appliances that execute Web-related functions such as indexing, Web search and video search, said Anant Agarwal, cofounder and chief technology officer of Tilera, which is based in San Jose, California. The chips have the attributes of a general-purpose CPU as they can run the Linux OS and other applications commonly used to serve Web data.
"You can run us as an adjunct to something else, though the intent is to be able to run it stand-alone," Agarwal said. The chips could serve as co-processors alongside x86 chips, or potentially replace the chips in appliances and servers.
Chip makers are continuously adding cores as a way to boost application performance. Most x86 server chips today come with either four or six cores, but Intel is set to release the Nehalem-EX chip, an x86 microprocessor with eight cores. AMD will shortly follow with a 12-core Opteron chip code-named Magny Cours. Graphics processors from companies like AMD and Nvidia include hundreds of cores to run high-performance applications, though the chips are making their way into PCs.
The Gx100 100-core chip will draw close to 55 watts of power at maximum performance, Agarwal said. The 16-core chip will draw as little as 5 watts of power.
Tilera's chips have an advantage in performance-per watt compared to x86 chips, but some will be skeptical as the chips are not yet established, said Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts.
"I don't think an average person is going to run out to buy a computer with Tilera in it," Strauss said. Intel has the advantage of being an incumbent, and even if Tilera offered something comparable to Intel's chips, it would take years to catch up.
But to start, Tilera is focusing the chips on specific applications that can scale in performance across a large number of cores. It has ported certain Linux applications commonly used in servers, like the Apache Web server, MySQL database and Memcached caching software, to the Tilera architecture.
"The reason we have target markets is not because of any technological limitations or other stuff in the chip. It is simply because, you know, you have to market your processor [to a] target audience. As a small company we can't boil the ocean," Agarwal said.
The company's strategy is to go after lucrative markets where parallel-processing capability has a quick payout, Strauss said. Tilera could expand beyond the Web space to other markets where low-power chips are needed.
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