Not moving data -- the next big thing for CPUs?

Posted on Monday, Aug 16 2021 @ 10:15 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
We're kicking off this rainy Monday with an interesting piece from ExtremeTech's Joel Hruska about the next big thing in the CPU market. In the past, getting more performance out of a processor was easier than it is today. For a long time, processor makers focused heavily on increasing frequencies but that trick fell apart about 15 years ago. Since that date, there's been more focus on multi-core computing, various architectural enhancements, and power efficiency.

But could the next big thing be not moving data at all?

Two thirds of power is spent on data movement

The article cites a chart from Rambus that indicates roughly 62.6 percent of power is spent on data movement. A mere 37.4 percent is actually spent on computational tasks. Part of this problem could be solved via computational storage, which embeds processing capabilities directly into storage devices.

If CPU makers go down this path, the processor we know today would basically become the "accelerator of last resort." The idea here would be to move data as little as possible, to boost performance and increase energy efficiency:
Under this model, the CPU would be a bit more like an accelerator itself. Specifically, the CPU becomes the “accelerator” of last resort. When a workload is complex, serialized, or full of branchy, unpredictable code that makes it unsuitable to the GPU and/or whatever future AI hardware AMD and Intel might one day ship, it gets kicked over to the CPU, which specializes in exactly this kind of problem. Move storage searches and some computation into SSDs and RAM, and the CPU has that many more clock cycles to actually crunch data.
The downside is that it requires a big rethinking of the storage stack, as well as a restructuring of software. Or in other words, it won't be a quick revolution.

Data movement uses a lot of power

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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