I’ve written previously on the subject of parallel processing – mostly with a focus on microcontrollers. I’ve also noted that there’s a hole in the current offerings, with FPGAs being extremely fine grained and GPUs being specialized on massively parallel computations with the same essential program. The Zii Labs processors made me curious, the Green Arrays chips lacked the switching layer that is present in the XMOS and Transputer systems.. but we finally see a real contender.
I had the good fortune to talk to one of the people responsible for the development tools for Adapteva Epiphany, currently in a Kickstarter campaign for a computer named Parallella. This is the real deal – low power, high performance, and properly available documentation and tools. It’s not like Zii, where you can request an OpenCL implementation and never get a reply, nor like GreenArray where there’s only one possible programming language. This time there’s floating point and integer support, a unified memory system (although local memory is obviously the fastest), and somebody has prepared a board to get started! So what do we wait for? Only enough backers. Currently we’re short, and I for one have already signed up. Update: funding succeeded!
At a technical conference the first question was what the chip is for. In short, new applications; this level of performance in this efficient a package has not been available (to the public) before. I think a graphics card will still be the more efficient option for Bitcoins, but imagine a synthesizer musician no longer constrained by a local computer. Or a fully programmable camera capable of doing the trivial stuff – like lens correction and HDR imagery – on the fly. This is just the beginning.
Oh, and incidentally, it has one of the coolest FPGAs I’ve seen on a budget board, at the lowest price I know of (1/3rd of the next one). I may go into more detail on the architecture later on. 🙂