The Social-Network Chip

Low-energy processors are etched on a silicon wafer.

Image credit: Tilera

By Kate Greene

Looking at friends’ pictures on Facebook or searching résumés on LinkedIn are relatively simple computing tasks in which information is called up, retrieved, and then shipped to a user’s screen from a distant data center. Yet such tasks are handled mostly by powerful microprocessors designed for more complex jobs like number crunching and running operating systems.

That means a waste of electrical power, says Ihab Bishara, director of cloud computing products at Tilera, a chip startup in San Jose, California. Microprocessors serving the cloud are too powerful, he says; in the future, he believes, many tasks carried out in data centers will be handled by cheaper, low-power chips like those his company makes.

Currently, the chips inside data-center servers are nearly all manufactured by Intel, which commands roughly 90 percent of the server market with its family of Xeon microprocessors. Xeon chips have up to 10 processing centers, known as cores, that work in parallel to do hefty computational lifting. In contrast, Tilera’s chips contain up to 100 smaller, lower-power cores. When networked together, the cores are capable of handling common cloud applications like retrieving user data while consuming about half as much electrical power, Bishara claims.


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