As Intel and other chipmakers embark on their multicore journeys, they've tried as best they can to give software developers new ways of writing software to take advantage of the potential performance increases inherent in packing more processors into chips.
With that in mind, the two companies announced that they've committed $20 million to set up and fund new research facilities at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The two universities hope to add $15 million to the effort from their own coffers.
The research centers will focus on parallel programming efforts, including applications and operating systems that are able to take advantage of multicore processors. Though processors have continued to get more powerful over the last few years, industry leaders have argued that chipmakers are approaching a point where speed will level out. More processing cores could help increase performance, but only if software can be written to take advantage of the new chips.
"Twenty-plus years ago, the research space in parallel computing was looking toward the end of Moore's Law, and so there were bases that were built there to exploit parallelization," Dan Reed, Microsoft Research's director of scalable and multicore computing, said in a recent interview. "The challenge has been that long-term research had been required to support this. There is no silver bullet there. Some of it is going to be incremental advances; some is going to be new languages."
Microsoft chief research officer Craig Mundie has made multicore's challenges to the software industry a centerpiece of his public statements in the last year or two. There are a number of parallel computing projects under way at Microsoft, including a distributed computing effort called Project Dryad, parallel extensions to Visual Studio called Parallel FX, parallel programming languages like F#, and new performance monitoring tools.
Intel earlier this week outlined its near-term multicore plans, announcing a new six-core chip named Dunnington due out in the second half of 2008. It has already shown an 80-core prototype chip. AMD's own quad-core Barcelona chip will ship in the next few months.