Princeton University Researchers Unveil 25-Core Open Source Piton Processor At Hot Chips

Researchers at Princeton University recently showed off a 25-core processor they designed specifically for data centers. It's called "Piton," named after the metal spikes rock climbers hammer into cracks or seams of mountainsides to anchor their position, and it's built after a scalable architecture that could boost processing speed while cutting back energy use.

Piton represents several years of research and development by David Wentzlaff, a Princeton assistant professor of electrical engineering and associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science, and his students. It's also a rare thing—Wentzlaff says it's not often that a physical piece of hardware is created in an academic setting.

This one was purpose built for the rigorous demands of data centers. With its scalable architecture, Piton can go from a dozen cores to thousands of cores. What's more, the architecture allows for thousands of chips to be work together in a single system, paving the way for millions of independent processing cores working in conjunction.

"With Piton, we really sat down and rethought computer architecture in order to build a chip specifically for data centers and the cloud," Wentzlaff said. "The chip we've made is among the largest chips ever built in academia and it shows how servers could run far more efficiently and cheaply."

In its current form, the 25-core Piton chip has more than 460 million transistors built on IBM's 32-nanometer manufacturing process. The entire CPU measures 6 millimeters by 6 millimeters. It's not the first processor with dozens of cores, but its scalable architecture is the draw.

"What we have with Piton is really a prototype for future commercial server systems that could take advantage of a tremendous number of cores to speed up processing," Wentzlaff added.