New Chip Heralds a Parallel Future

Missing no chance to stand on my soapbox about the need for easy PL retargeting, I bring you insights from Paul Murphy about our parallel-processing, Linux future.

[T]he product has seen a billion dollars in development work. Two fabs...have been custom-built to make the new processor in large volumes....To the extent that performance information has become available, it is characterized by numbers so high that most people simply dismissed the reports....

The machine is widely referred to as a cell processor, but the cells involved are software, not hardware. Thus a cell is a kind of TCP packet on steroids, containing both data and instructions and linked back to the task of which it forms part via unique identifiers that facilitate results assembly just as the TCP sequence number does.

The basic processor itself appears to be a PowerPC derivative with high-speed built-in local communications, high-speed access to local memory, and up to eight attached processing units broadly akin to the Altivec short array processor used by Apple. The actual product consists of one to eight of these on a chip -- a true grid-on-a-chip approach in which a four-way assembly can, when fully populated, consist of four core CPUs, 32 attached processing units and 512 MB of local memory.

Paul follows up with a shocker.

I'd like to make two outrageous predictions on this: first that it will happen early next year, and secondly that the Linux developer community will, virtually en masse, abandon the x86 in favor of the new machine.

Abandonment is relative. The new processor will emulate x86 no problem, as Paul notes. In the PowerPC line, already today we have Linux for PowerPC complete with Mac OS X sandbox. From a PL standpoint, however, this development may cattle-prod language folks off their x86 back ends and into some serious compiler refactoring work. I hope so!

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