Intel, Microsoft team up in multicore research effort

Agree to provide combined $20 million to help fund parallel computing research centers

Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. today announced that they are teaming up with two universities to build research centers that will focus on advanced research into parallel computing.

The two companies have agreed to ante up a combined $20 million in funding for Universal Parallel Computing Research Centers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The University of Illinois has committed $8 million, and UC Berkeley has applied for $7 million in funds from a state-supported program to match industry grants, the companies announced at a press conference.

"I'm very excited about the quality of the team we've been able to pull together," said Andrew Chien, vice president of Intel's Corporate Technology Group. "The Universal Parallel Computing Research Centers represent some of the best in industry/university collaborations. We're going to be able to work together on some of the biggest problems that face the industry."

Parallel computing refers to the ability to split up a single task among multiple processors. The basic idea is that problems can be handled more efficiently if one big task can be split up into smaller ones.

As companies like Intel, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and IBM continue to push out processors with more than one core, there's an increasing need for software designed to take advantage of the multicores. Without software optimization, there's little benefit to dual-core, quad-core or any other multiple-core processor.

Just today, AMD executives told Computerworld that the first systems running its new quad-core Barcelona chip are expected to hit the market in April. And on Monday, Intel said that its six-core processor, code-named Dunnington, is slated to ship to resellers in the second half of this year.

The number of cores is expected to jump considerably in the coming years -- Intel has said its researchers are working on an 80-core processor.

"Intel has already shown an 80-core research processor, and we're quickly moving the computing industry to a many-core world," said Chien. "Working with Microsoft and these two prestigious universities will help catalyze the long-term breakthroughs that are needed to enable dramatic new applications for the mainstream user."

Intel and Microsoft noted in a press release that they evaluated 25 institutions before deciding to place the research centers at UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois.

Work at the research center at UC Berkeley will be done by 14 members of the university's faculty, as well as 50 doctoral students and post doctoral researchers. Twenty-one faculty members and 26 graduate students and researchers will run the research center at the Illinois school.

Software developed by the centers will be made available to the technology community for additional development, according to both companies.

"The shift of hardware technology from single-core to multicore will have a profound effect on the way we develop software in the future," said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of external research at Microsoft Research. "It will affect how we develop software for laptops, servers and supercomputers. By working with Intel, UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, we'll be exploring the next generation of hardware and software that will unlock the power of parallel computing."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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