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Vishkin's prototype

(Source: Clark School of Engineering - University of Maryland)
A promise of a parallel processing system that is simple to program for

Researchers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering claim to have developed a computer system that is 100 times faster than today’s desktops.

The research group, lead by Uzi Vishkin, developed a system based on parallel processing technology. The team built a prototype with 64 parallel processors and a special algorithm that facilitates the chips to work together and make programming for them simple.

"Suppose you hire one person to clean your home, and it takes five hours, or 300 minutes, for the person to perform each task, one after the other," Vishkin said. "That's analogous to the current serial processing method. Now imagine that you have 100 cleaning people who can work on your home at the same time! That's the parallel processing method."

"The 'software' challenge is: Can you manage all the different tasks and workers so that the job is completed in 3 minutes instead of 300?" Vishkin continued. "Our algorithms make that feasible for general-purpose computing tasks for the first time."

Vishkin began his work in 1979 on developing a theory of parallel algorithms. By 1997, advances in technology enabled him to begin building a prototype desktop device to test his theory; he and his team completed the device in December 2006.

"The manufacturers have done an excellent job over the years of increasing a single processor's clock speed through clever miniaturization strategies and new materials," he noted. "But they have now reached the limits of this approach. It is time for a practical alternative that will allow a new wave of innovation and growth—and that's what we have created with our parallel computing technology."

Despite the prototype’s forward-looking architecture, the hardware is nothing fancy by today’s standards. Vishkin’s prototype runs using standard PC components running at 75MHz.

At the ACM International Conference on Supercomputing (ICS) in Seattle, Vishkin allowed conference participants to connect to the device remotely and run programs on it in a full-day tutorial session he conducted. Vishkin also participated in a panel discussion at a special invitation-only Microsoft Workshop on Many-Core Computing.

"The single-chip supercomputer prototype built by Prof. Uzi Vishkin's group uses rich algorithmic theory to address the practical problem of building an easy-to-program multicore computer," said Charles E. Leiserson, professor of computer science and engineering at MIT. "Vishkin's chip unites the theory of yesterday with the reality of today."

"This system represents a significant improvement in generality and flexibility for parallel computer systems because of its unique abilities," said Burton Smith, technical fellow for advanced strategies and policy at Microsoft. "It will be able to exploit a wider spectrum of parallel algorithms than today's microprocessors can, and this in turn will help bring general purpose parallel computing closer to reality."

Vishkin believes that future devices utilizing parallel processing technology could be composed of 1,000 processors on a chip the size of a fingernail.





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