USC/ISI Device Will Be Evaluated for Use in HP
Platform with DARPA funding. Applications Seen in
Multimedia, Complex Scientific Modeling and Database
Researchers from the University of Southern California
School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute (ISI)
demonstrated a Processor in Memory (PIM) chip, or "Smart
Memory" chip that has the capability to speed some
calculations by at least an order of magnitude at the
DarpaTech 2002 Symposium in Anaheim, CA. July 31.
At the demonstration, a representative of DARPA's High
Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) initiative announced
that HP will collaborate with ISI to evaluate the chip for use
in the company's McKinley server.
The DIVA chip was prototyped by MOSIS, ISI's chip
brokerage service. ISI computer scientist John Granacki,
co-leader of the Data IntensiVe Architecture (DIVA) project
that created the new chip, said it addresses a longstanding
and growing mismatch in computer components.
While central processing units (CPUs) are running ever
faster, much of the data that these chips process come from
separate random access memory (RAM) chips and the
connection between the two has become a bottleneck that
For many years, computer scientists have experimented with
combining CPU and RAM functions on a single piece of
silicon. "RAM chips are finally dense enough that we can
afford the space for processor logic on them," explained
DIVA co-leader Mary Hall. "Because the processors and
memory are so much closer and are on the same chip, this
design not only cuts the time delay per computation but also
increases the potential bandwidth for data transfer between
"The DIVA PIM chip is not the first device that has a
processor-in-memory functionality," said Hall. "Computer
scientists have been talking about the potential of PIM chips
for most of the past decade and have released devices they
call PIM chips, but this is the first smart-memory device
designed to support virtual addressing and capable of
executing multiple threads of control."
Granacki said that other PIM devices have had "a strict,
unchangeable protocol that limits their usefulness."
Existing CPUs do have a small amount of memory, called a
cache, built in. For many applications, this substantially
speeds processing. But for many others, cache capacity isn't
sufficient, and the processor must wait while data is sought
and retrieved from separate memory chips.
Delay caused by this process is called the "memory wall."
The DIVA hardware design removes it by vastly expanding
cache memory. The chip can take much better advantage of
software that processes 256 bits of information, rather than
the standard 32, in each operation cycle.
Groups of DIVA chips can serve both as a parallel processor,
performing most of the program calculations internally, and
as a set of "smart coprocessors." Instead of dragging each
piece of stored data to the central processor for
computation, the PIM chip passes each computation to the
processor unit or node that is nearest to the data it needs,
Tests are proceeding to gauge how completely the new chip
realizes the hopes of its designers. The researchers said the
new chips have executed some benchmark tests more than
10 times faster than conventional systems. The team
believes they have the potential for speedups of as much as
The researchers said the PIM chip contains 55-million
transistors and is one of the largest functioning chips to
result from academic research. Use of the MOSIS brokerage
made it possible to produce the ambitious architecture
economically. The DIVA team hopes to produce a full
prototype system with chip groupings by 2003. However, the
unit to be demonstrated at the conference represents a
substantial step in that direction, a two DIVA chip unified
The just-announced HPSC effort will attempt to insert 16 or
32 PIM units into the HP McKinley machine, according to Jeff
Draper, who led the VSLI section of the DIVA team.
Researchers expect that the first machine should be ready
for testing in 12 to 18 months.
ISI cooperated on the development of the system
architecture with researchers at the University of Notre
Dame, Caltech, the University of Delaware, and Alphatech
Inc., of Burlington MA.
Besides Granacki, Hall and Draper major contributions came
from ISI researchers Jacqueline Chame (Simulation,
Benchmarking and Compiler), Jeff LaCoss (Emulator), Tim
Barrett (System Integration), Jeff Sondeen (VLSI), and Dale
Chase (Emulator and System Integration) and Craig Steele.
Many USC graduate students also contributed to this project.
The DIVA effort was funded by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, host of the conference.
Part of the USC School of Engineering, the USC Information
Sciences Institute is one of the nation's leading computer
science research and development centers, with a broad
research program in artificial intelligence, networking and
communications, software generation, integrated circuits and
microdevice fabrication, parallel and distributed computing.
ISI, with a staff of 350, has two research locations, the main
facility in Marina del Rey, California, and an East Coast
facility in Arlington, Virginia.