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IDF: Intel is looking at ARM's Big Little architecture

Needs an operating system first
Fri Sep 14 2012, 19:58

SAN FRANCISCO: CHIPMAKER Intel is interested in following ARM's "Big Little" design, though operating system support is needed.

As Intel tries to make its way in the smartphone and tablet markets with Medfield and its upcoming Clover Trail processors, the firm is looking at ARM's Big Little paradigm for its low power processors.

At IDF, Intel CTO Justin Rattner said the firm is interested in putting different cores on a single die.

Rattner, who has overseen Chipzilla's push into wireless radio and system-on-chip (SoC) design said, "The other kind of heterogeneity we've seen on the ARM side is general purpose processors but smaller, slower ones and larger, more powerful ones and moving the workloads around when there is more stuff to do - that's another area of interest [for Intel]. Obviously operating systems must help there. Most operating systems tend to think all the cores are the same, but [they are] not in that case."

Judging from Rattner's comments, Intel's push into multiple types of cores on a single SoC has more to do with operating system support than silicon level issues. Perhaps Intel's exclusive support for Microsoft Windows on chips such as Clover Trail is what has allowed ARM to promote its Big Little architecture more aggressively.

Rattner also talked about Intel wanting to get more parallelism from its chips to improve performance, citing the firm's upcoming Xeon Phi accelerator board as an example.

He said, "Obviously people are always looking for ways to get more parallelism out of the architecture and if you look at our MIC/Knights Corner architecture coming up in a few months, again its an architecture that is Intel compatible but is clearly optimised for high performance computing, and each core has a vector engine that is quite a bit more powerful than you find in a Xeon processor, so there is that kind of optimisation."

Several of Intel's high-ranking executives told The INQUIRER at IDF that the Xeon Phi compute architecture will eventually end up as an on-die coprocessor in the future. Rattner's comments also strongly suggest that Xeon Phi will end up on-die, and that the company might eventually mix variants of both Atom and Core architectures on a single die. µ


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