Lyric Takes On Intel, AMD With Reengineered Processors

MIT spinout claims innovative circuitry makes its chips perform 1,000 times better than current x86-based platforms.
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Lyric Semiconductor, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded spinout from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has unveiled a redesigned computer processor that the startup plans to position against Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in some computing areas.

Lyric, which emerged from stealth mode Tuesday, is developing a general-purpose processor that the company claims has the potential of performing a thousand times better than x86-based processing platforms offered by Intel and AMD. Lyric plans to have samples of the new chip available to computer makers in 2013.

In the meantime, Lyric is licensing its core technology, called "probability processing," in a product called Lyric Error Correction (LEC) for flash memory. The technology is an error corrector that is 30 times smaller and consumes 12 times less power than comparable technology used in the system memory found in computers today.

Correctors are needed in flash memory because one in every thousand bits stored comes out wrong when the memory is read. The problem is expected to grow as manufacturers increase the density of flash memory to stuff more storage in less space. The much higher density of next-generation flash memory could see error rates as high as one bit out of every hundred, according to Lyric.

The touted advancement in Lyric's processing technology is in the circuitry of its semiconductors. For decades chipmakers have used logic gates that can be switched on and off, much like a light switch, to represent data bits as 1s and 0s. Lyric's redesign introduces a new kind of logic gate circuitry that uses transistors as dimmer switches. As a result, the circuits can accept inputs and calculate outputs between 0 and 1, replacing the hard logic of today's computer systems with output that represents probabilities.

In addition, whereas today's processors step through operations serially to perform a task, Lyric's technology performs many probability computations in parallel. As a result, Lyric's processor is expected to be more efficient in a number of computing areas.

The company plans to aim its processors at applications that have to consider many possible alternatives in order to decide on the best guess for the answer. Such applications are found in search, fraud detection, spam filtering, financial modeling, and genome sequence analysis.

"After a decade of development, we have no shortage of opportunities for our probability processing technology, but we are currently focused on a modest list of both short and long-term applications that will see enormous gains in performance,” Ben Vigoda, chief executive and co-founder of Lyric, said in a statement. Vigoda holds a doctorate from MIT and is a key developer of probability processing technology.

Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., Lyric employs 30 people and has received more than $20 million in government funding from DARPA and other agencies, as well as funding from venture capital firm Stata Venture Partners.