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Rapport Unveils Chip With 256 Cores

Multicore processors have gone mainstream and increasingly are showing up in PCs, servers, and business data centers. Now Rapport, a startup backed by some industry veterans, wants to take multicore to the extreme with a huge mass of processing elements that promise high throughput at low power.

Rapport, headed by the former leaders of Think Technologies and backed by semiconductor pioneer Gordon Campbell, came out of stealth mode last week promising to set a new standard with an architecture that combines 256 processing cores in a single chip. By mid-2007, Rapport says, it will integrate more than 1,000 processing cores on a chip that uses much less power than regular chips.

Rapport's chances of success may be iffy, but attacking computing challenges with arrays of processing cores isn't new. Numerous companies--ranging from NEC and Micron to startups Azul, PicoChip, and QuickSilver Technology--have demonstrated and built processors with dozens or hundreds of processing elements on a single chip. But they've only had limited success in selling to the commercial market.

You can count all 256 cores, says Rapport's CEO Andrew Singer.

You can count all 256 cores, says Rapport's CEO Andrew Singer.

Rapport CEO Andrew Singer says his company's Kilocore technology is ready to make an impact on everything from handheld Internet appliances and smart phones to high-end applications such as a mobile "supercomputer in a suitcase." Rapport has customers, Singer says, but he won't name them just yet.

Based on technology developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Rapport's first commercial chip is actually a third-generation design, Singer says. The Kilocore256 features 256 8-bit arithmetic logic units that can be daisy-chained to handle up to 128-bit instruction lengths or used in parallel to handle multiple functions simultaneously. The cores each run at 100 MHz and together can perform 25 billion operations per second, while only using around a half-watt of power.

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