Section: Research Program

Technology induced challenges

The power and temperatures walls

The power and the temperature walls largely contributed to the emergence of the small-scale multicores. For the past five years, mainstream general-purpose multicores have been built by assembling identical superscalar cores on a chip (e.g. IBM Power series). No new complex power hungry mechanisms were introduced in the core architectures, while power saving techniques such as power gating, dynamic voltage and frequency scaling were introduced. Therefore, since 2002, the designers have been able to keep the power consumption budget and the temperature of the chip within reasonable envelopes while scaling the number of cores with the technology.

Unfortunately, simple and efficient power saving techniques have already caught most of the low hanging fruits on energy consumption. Complex power and thermal management mechanisms are now becoming mainstream; e.g. the Intel Montecito (IA64) featured an adjunct (simple) core whose unique mission is to manage the power and temperature on two cores. Processor industry will require more and more heroic efforts on this power and temperature management policy to maintain its current performance scaling path. Hence the power and temperature walls might slow the race towards 100's and 1000's cores unless the processor industry takes a new paradigm shift from the current "replicating complex cores" (e.g. Intel Nehalem) towards many simple cores (e.g. Intel Larrabee) or heterogeneous manycores (e.g. new GPUs, IBM Cell).

The memory wall

For the past 20 years, the memory access time has been one of the main bottlenecks for performance in computer systems. This was already true for uniprocessors. Complex memory hierarchies have been defined and implemented in order to limit the visible memory access time as well as the memory traffic demands. Up to three cache levels are implemented for uniprocessors. For multi- and many-cores the problems are even worse. The memory hierarchy must be replicated for each core, memory bandwidth must be shared among the distinct cores, data coherency must be maintained. Maintaining cache coherency for up to 8 cores can be handled through relatively simple bus protocols. Unfortunately, these protocols do not scale for large numbers of cores, and there is no consensus on coherency mechanism for manycore systems. Moreover there is no consensus on core organization (flat ring? flat grid? hierarchical ring or grid?).

Therefore, organizing and dimensioning the memory hierarchy will be a major challenge for the computer architects. The successful architecture will also be determined by the abilitty of the applications (i.e., the programmers or the compilers or the run-time) to efficiently place data in the memory hierarchy and achieve high performance.

Finally new technology opportunities may demand to revisit the memory hierarchy. As an example, 3D memory stacking enables a huge last-level cache (maybe several gigabytes) with huge bandwidth (several Kbits/ processor cycle). This dwarfs the main memory bandwidth and may lead to other architectural tradeoffs.