Tilera chips add muscle to x86 servers, free up computing capacity

With their 72 cores, Tile-IQ co-processors can boost servers' speed by taking on Hadoop and video apps

Tilera's Tilencore-GX 72-core co-processing chip

Tilera's Tilencore-GX 72-core co-processing chip

New Tilera co-processors tuned for Hadoop, video and networking applications can free up the primary CPUs of x86 servers to run other applications.

The company's Tile-IQ series of chips will have up to 72 low-power CPU cores, which will bring extra computing muscle to speed up servers, said Bob Doud, director of processor strategy for Tilera. The Tile-IQ series includes the Tilencore-GX chips, which will come with nine, 16, 36 and 72 cores.

Doud claimed servers with the chips will run network and Hadoop applications four times faster, and deliver a performance-per-watt that is 10 times better than that of systems without the co-processor. The co-processor plugs into PCI-Express slots and is designed to work alongside the main x86 chips, which typically carry up to 16 CPU cores.

Tilera's chips are based on the architecture used in existing Tile-GX chips, which were announced in 2009 and can also function as main CPUs in a server. Some data centers have custom installations in which Tile-GX chips are being used alongside x86 chips, and the company now has a specific product line for the co-processors and made them widely available, Doud said.

"We're going after the hyperscale side of datacenters," Doud said, adding that the company has seen an uptick in deployment of Tile-GX chips in x86 servers.

Co-processors like Intel's Phi chip and Nvidia's Tesla graphics chip are being increasingly used alongside CPUs in servers to handle complex calculations. Network processors are used at the front end of data centers for tasks like deep-packet inspection, firewall, load-balancing and network security.

Typically products like Tilera's co-processor end up being used in vertical markets for specific applications, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

More processors in a server could help speed up applications, but it comes down to workloads, McCarron said. The code also needs to be tuned specifically to the chip.

Most of Tilera's chips are being used for network and video processing, but Tile-IQ is flexible for general-purpose and distributed computing, Doud said. In addition to Hadoop, common Linux applications such as the Apache Web server, MySQL database and Memcached caching software have been ported for use on Tilera's chips. Tilera supports common programming tools like C++ and Java.

Given its success with networking, Tilera's chips may have hooks for implementation in distributed computing environments, but a lot depends on the infrastructure, McCarron said.

The chips have RISC (reduced instruction set computing) cores and up to 16GB of on-board memory. The nine-, 16- and 36-core chips plug into PCI-Express 2.0 slots, while the 72-core chip plugs into the faster PCI-Express 3.0 slot. The chips have 64-bit cores, DDR3 memory controllers and Gigabit Ethernet controllers.

The Tile-IQ chips will be made using the 40-nanometer process, but faster and more power-efficient chips based on the 28-nanometer process could come out next year, Doud said. The company did not provide pricing for the chip.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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