Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • It happens all the time, but it’s rare that we actually watch it happen: a comet falling into the Sun. (It’s unclear to me what the brief tiny streaks are, since SOHO is a spacecraft and the image was not taken through Earth’s atmosphere, where meteors would look like that. Meteors in the solar atmosphere?)
  • The SOHO spacecraft may also be shedding some light on why the recent solar minimum was so deep.
  • We’ve identified what may be a much better proxy for ancient climate: clam shells. Unlike tree growth rings, which may be affected by several factors like rainfall, sunlight, soil chemistry, and so on, clam shell growth (and the mix of isolotopes, particularly oxygen) seem very closely correlated to the temperature of the water in which the clam lived out its life.
  • Intel’s Nehalen-based Gulftown CPU has been officially announced, with six 3.33 GHz cores and 32 nm traces connecting a boggling 1.2 billion transistors. They’re calling it the Core I7-980X Extreme Edition, and it fits the LGA 1366 socket, which implies than it can be swapped in as an upgrade. (No confirmation on that yet.) You may be able to get an overclocked desktop system running all six cores at 4.3 GHz by April. And if that’s not enough cores for you (four is way more than enough for me, if this past year’s experience is any guide) we’ll be seeing the eight-core Nehalen-EX (with 2.3 billion transistors) later this year, nominally for the server market.
  • I know, I know, AMD has its Magny-Cours 12-core Opteron server CPU, but the cores only run at 1.7 GHz–and more to the point, exist on two separate side-by-side six-core dies, which may be cheating a little. I’m sure they’re very good chips, but sheesh! We still don’t know how to do parallelism in general terms. Even AMD is puzzled, so they launched a contest titled, “What would you do with 48 cores?”
  • And if you don’t believe me, open Windows Task Manager, click the Performance tab, and watch all your cores but one do nothing. To paraphrase George Carlin: What do cores do on their day off? They can’t just lay around…that’s their job!
  • Frank Glover put me on to an interesting hand-drawn animated movie that I hope to see fairly soon, if I can find anywhere playing it. (Distribution in the US is inexplicably a problem for them.) The Secret of Kells is about the Book of Kells, and (more intriguingly) is drawn in the style of medieval manuscript illumination. It took a few seconds watching the trailer to catch on, but eventually I had the feeling that I was watching manuscript illuminations come to life. Damned cool.
  • And 229 years ago today, Sir Frederick William Herschel first spotted Uranus.


  1. Brook Monroe says:

    The streaks are usually cosmic rays smacking the CCD imager silly for a bit.

  2. Brook Monroe says:

    The company where I work has found a way to occupy all the cores on my workstation. One core does the work I need to do, and the other three run needless security software (NOT anti-malware, mind you) that ensures I don’t accidentally get any real work done on time. I think one core is purely devoted to throwing out a BSOD every time I try to get onto the NAS.

  3. John Fruehe says:

    48 cores? We have been shipping servers that have 48 cores since June (8 sockets x 6 cores). With 4 sockets by 12 cores, you’ll really be able to scale down the power demands and the cost, while the performance will scale up even more from there.

    These will be used for database, HPC/technical, web/cloud, java, business apps (SAP, CRM, ERP, etc.) and more.

    As for putting 2 die in a single package, that has been done for a while. The trick with ours is that the die are interconnected so they scale well. And 1.7GHz will be the low end of the stack, not the top.

    It should be an exciting time when these launch.

    1. Darrin Chandler says:

      Two *slightly* interesting multicore points:

      * Pipelined UNIX commands can use multiple cores, multiple separate CPUs, etc. The individual commands are connected by I/O, but are otherwise standalone. That allows each command to run on a separate core, for the effect of the “meta” command to be multicore. The OS handles this, rather than the user/programmer.

      * The Haskell programming language is striving to use multiple cores automatically, without the programmer jumping through all kinds of hoops. It’s fairly promising, and I have some hopes. The idea is that since it’s a “pure” functional language (functions results only depend on inputs, not on state or side effects), functions or chains of functions can be spun off to separate cores. The compiler handles this, rather than the programmer.

      If you didn’t notice the similarity between the above points, go back and read them again.

  4. Eric Brombaugh says:

    Amazing stuff coming out of the CPU design shops these days.

    Minor point regarding process nodes: When they talk about a 32nm process they’re not referring to the width of the metal traces, but rather the gate length of the transistors. Routing lines are generally much wider than that in order to carry current without suffering electromigration.

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