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8/10/2006
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Intel Preparing Students For Multicore Future

The technology evolution that may well most significantly change the course of computing over the remainder of the decade and beyond is multicore processing. Dual-core processors have rapidly moved into the mainstream, but the advent of quad-core devices by year-end and even greater core densities in the years ahead will add increasing complexity to both hardware and software design. Intel hopes to ease the transition to multicore processing with new programs at major universities that target th

The technology evolution that may well most significantly change the course of computing over the remainder of the decade and beyond is multicore processing. Dual-core processors have rapidly moved into the mainstream, but the advent of quad-core devices by year-end and even greater core densities in the years ahead will add increasing complexity to both hardware and software design. Intel hopes to ease the transition to multicore processing with new programs at major universities that target the next generation of software designers.Intel announced this week that it's providing 45 universities with funding, development tools, educational materials, on-site training, and collaborative meetings with Intel researchers and software developers intended to help the schools incorporate multicore and multithreading concepts into their computer science curricula. Those new classes are expected to begin as soon as the coming semester.

Scott Apeland, director of the Intel Developer Network, says that by the end of the year, more than three-quarters of all processors shipped by the world's largest semiconductor company will have a dual-core implementation. But the multicore wheel has just begun to turn. Intel has also announced it will begin offering a quad-core processor before 2007. Advanced Micro Devices plans to bring its quad-core processor to market by mid-2007.

Eight-core and 16-core x86 processors could be mainstream devices before the turn of the decade. And within non-x86 processors, multicore implementations of eight to 32 cores are already on the market from companies such as Sun Microsystems and Azul Systems.

Intel's Software & Solutions Group provides a range of products, including compilers, debuggers, and performance optimization tools for improving the development of software for its current dual-core processors, Apeland says. But a special effort is needed to ensure that the new talent entering the IT community is ready for the increasing challenges ahead.

"We have been focusing on developers already in the industry, but there needs to be an effort to get multithreading skills and techniques into basic computer science classes and into the advanced architecture courses," he says. "We need to make these capabilities rock solid and taught widely."

Institutions currently participating include Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, and University of Washington, as well as leading academic programs in Brazil, China, India, Russia, Taiwan, and several European countries. Intel believes the effort will expand to a thousand or more universities.

"Universities want their students to be leading-edge and coming out with the right skills," Apeland says. "There is a significant change in software development that is ongoing. Hardware capabilities are changing significantly, and almost overnight software developers have new challenges."

For the past three decades, processor improvements were measured by the steady increase in clock speeds, a dynamic that has quickly changed. End users are already experiencing the improvements in performance per socket and performance per watt that dual-core processors can bring to market. A well-trained class of new technologists will need to be ready to take multicore processing to even greater levels in the years ahead.

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