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The Economics of Chips With Many Cores 343

Posted by kdawson
from the please-insert-25-cents dept.
meanonymous writes "HPCWire reports that a unique marketing model for 'manycore' processors is being proposed by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers. The current economic model has customers purchasing systems containing processors that meet the average or worst-case computation needs of their applications. The researchers contend that the increasing number of cores complicates the matching of performance needs and applications and makes the cost of buying idle computing power increasingly prohibitive. They speculate that the customer will typically require fewer cores than are physically on the chip, but may want to use more of them in certain instances. They suggest that chips be developed in a manner that allows users to pay only for the computing power they need rather than the peak computing power that is physically present. By incorporating small pieces of logic into the processor, the vendor can enable and disable individual cores, and they offer five models that allow dynamic adjustment of the chip's available processing power."
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The Economics of Chips With Many Cores

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  • erm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:14AM (#22047934)
    So, Intel is going to charge us less for a processor with 4 cores because we can turn three off most of the time? Or is the power saving supposed to make the cost of the chip less prohibitive?

    Maybe it'll be a subscription service, 9.99 per month and .99 cents per minute every time you turn another core on.

  • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:17AM (#22047946) Journal
    You know what I still don't get? Why's everyone acting like dividing a CPU into several separate cores is a good thing?

    Let me compare it to, say, a construction company having a number of teams and a number of resources, e.g., vehicles:

    1. One team, 4 vehicles. That's classic single core. Downside, at a given moment it might only need 2 or 3 of those vehicles. (E.g., once you're done digging the foundation, you have a lot less need of the bulldozer.)

    2. Two teams, can pick what they need from a common pool of 4 vehicles. That's classic "hyperthreading". Downside, you're not getting twice the work done. Upside, you still paid only for 4 vehicles, and you're likely to get more out of them.

    3. Two teams, each with 4 vehicles of its own. They can't borrow one from each other. This is "dual core." Downside, now any waste from point 1 is doubled.

    But the one I don't see is, say,

    4. Two teams with a common pool of 8 vehicles. It's got to be more efficient than number 3.

    Basically #4 is the logical extension of hyperthreading, and it seems to me more efficient any way you want to slice it. Even if you add HT to dual-core design, you end up with twice #2 instead of #4 with 4 teams and a common pool. There is no reason why splitting the pool of resources (be it construction vehicles or execution pipelines) should be more efficient than having them all in a larger dynamically-allocated pool.

    So why _are_ we doing that stupidity? Just because AMD at one point couldn't get hyperthreading right and had its marketers convince everyone that worse is better, and up is down?
  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RuBLed (995686) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:25AM (#22047994)
    If one could make a 5 core processor for the price of $300 and be able to sell it with 5 cores enabled to a customer for $600. Why would he sell the same unit for $400 with only 2 cores enabled?

    Wouldn't he profit more if he could sell the 5 core processors all at $600 and make a separate 2 core processor for the price of $200 and sell it for $400?

    Well if they're going to rent it (as some of TFA said), it would make sense but if they're not, then it would be a profit not maximized.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:26AM (#22048002) Journal

    In theory it makes sense and some of you might point at mainframes as an example. However that would like comparing cars to trucks (real trucks not big cars), they are both vehicles and a company might use both but their usage is totally different.

    PC's just ain't upgraded, either they are good enough or they are replaced. I love building my own computer but am not as crazy as to replace the CPU whenever a new clockspeed comes out and this means that even a self-builder will often have to bite the bullet and just replace everything.

    Be honest, how often in business do you upgrade your desktops by replacing the CPU?

    We can test this easily, in the era of the P3 a lot of office systems were DUAL ready, so that when your needs increased you could ad another P3 and have lots more power. How many of you did that with a P3 that had been in the office for more then a year?

    This scheme seems like overthinking the problem. PC's in my experience either last until they die and by that time it cheaper to buy new then upgrade/repair, or they are simply replaced with the latest shining model because tech moves so fast that upgrading just the CPU will turn everything else into a bottle neck. Just check how many different types of memory we have had over the years. Would you really want a quad core on your IDE-33 motherboard? Play DVD's on a single speed cd-rom?

    Either you need all the cores now, or by the time you activate them because your apps need them everything else will need to be upgraded too and a brand new CPU will be available that is far better AND cheaper.

    But in a way we have had this solution for a long time now, but instead of activating extra cores when paid for, chipmakers instead sell defective chips for a reduced price so your still got a 4 core inside your machine but only 2 actually function (not sure wether this happens with entire cores but it is offcourse the case with cache memory).

    I don't see this happening, especially if you consider that an army of nerds would be trying their best to break the enabling code to get their extra cores for free, just see what happened with the "dual" P2 and cheapo P3's, Intel would have a heart attack.

  • Calculators (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Detritus (11846) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:44AM (#22048108) Homepage
    Someone already mentioned mainframes. Something similar is often done with calculators. Rather than design a new chip for each model, they design a single chip with all of the features. In mid-range and low-end models, it is crippled by the design of the keyboard and/or jumpers. It is often cheaper to dumb down a single hardware design than to produce unique designs for each segment of the market.
  • by WaZiX (766733) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @05:55AM (#22048166)
    1) Sell your super high power 20 cores CPU uncrippled.
    2) Make a platform where researchers can rent CPU power.
    3) Allow your customers to rent their unused CPU power/cores.
    4) Charge double what you give to your customers to the researchers.
    5) Profit! (From both the sale and the rental afterwards).

    And there is no ?...
  • Re:Why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @06:02AM (#22048208)
    Ahh, but if he sells the same unit for $400 with only 2 cores enabled, he can then come back and charge $100 per core to re-enable them, making it a net $700 for 5 cores working.

    This is very common in the mainframe world: most mainframes shipped historically were shipped with all the CPUs and expansion boards already populated, just not turned on. This allowed the manufacturer to "upgrade" the system while it's still running. No need for hot-swap hardware.
  • by Cyno01 (573917) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @07:34AM (#22048540) Homepage
    Sort of, as many other people have said, about overclocking and such, its not necesarily a scam, it makes things more cost effective for the company and can benefit the consumer who would take the effort to overclock. Lets say Intel (or AMD, doesnt matter, they both do it) does a run of chips. The specs call for the chip to run at, for simplicities sake, 2Ghz, with stock AMD cooling. But no manufacturing process is perfect, and lets say 25% of the chips arent good enough to run at 2ghz without frying. They then clock these chips to 1.5Ghz and sell them as such. This allows them to do a smaller run of specced 1.5Ghz chips and save themselves money. Its not really a scam, theyve been doing this forever, and arent the only industry to do it either. In this case, the consumer can benifit. Someone can buy a 1.5Ghz chip (although they might have to exchange it till they get one of the ones from the 2Ghz production run), and most of the time it'll run fine at the 2Ghz speed with improved cooling.
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday January 15, 2008 @09:51AM (#22049362) Homepage Journal
    On top of that, there may be some crippling of intact quad-cores if there is more demand for the cheap "tri-cores".

    It'd probably be more profitable to up the price of the tri-core a nitch*. A couple bucks would reduce the demand for the tri-core, as some people decide to settle for a dual core instead and some decide that the now smaller difference between a tri-core and a quad core makes it worth it to buy a quad core.

    IE:
    Quad: $100, Tri $75, Dual $50 - not enough triples to meet demand
    Quad $100, Tri $77, Dual $50 - Fewer people buy the tri because the quad and duals are 'good deals' in comparison.

    Whether more fall back to the dual or move up to the quad, I can't really say. Of course, that can be adjusted a bit by minor variations in price there. Just beware of competition there as well.

    *smaller than a notch. ;)

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