Globe hosts launch of new processor

Launch of the quadecore processor chip at the Globe.

On 14 November, in a series of major media events around the world, the chip-maker Intel launched its new 'quadcore' processor. For the regions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the day-long launch event took place in CERN's Globe of Science and Innovation, with over 30 journalists in attendance, coming from as far away as Johannesburg and Dubai. CERN was a significant choice for the event: the first tests of this new generation of processor in Europe had been made at CERN over the preceding months, as part of CERN openlab, a research partnership with leading IT companies such as Intel, HP and Oracle. The event also provided the opportunity for the journalists to visit ATLAS and the CERN Computer Centre.

The strategy of putting multiple processor cores on the same chip, which has been pursued by Intel and other chip-makers in the last few years, represents an important departure from the more traditional improvements in the sheer speed of such chips. The steady rise of the clock-frequency of processors, which propelled the industry for decades, was resulting in major design challenges. A widely quoted comparison was that the density of heat produced on a multi-Gigahertz chip was approaching that produced in a nuclear reactor, leading to engineering problems to cool chips efficiently.

The four processors in a quadcore system are practically identical to the dual and single core processors on the market today, allowing them to run several applications in parallel with big boosts in overall performance. This was illustrated at the launch event through a demonstration of how quadcore can speed up the rate of a typical scientific calculation involving a parallelized version of the program ROOT, widely used in the HEP community, by nearly a factor of four over conventional single core processors [see image]. Examples of similar gains from the fields of image rendering and computer games were also described at the event.

The multicore approach allows Intel to pursue the famous 'Moore's Law', named after Gordon Moore, one of Intel's founders. This law - actually an observation of technological trends - states that the number of transistors on chips doubles roughly every two years. This results in a similar growth rate for processor power. Intel representatives are optimistic that the progress characterized by Moore's Law can continue for another decade at least. This is good news for the LHC Computing Grid project at CERN, which has built this trend into its projections for the development of the Grid for many years to come.