Parallel programming made easy
Computer chips have stopped getting faster. For the past 10 years, chips’ performance improvements have come from the addition of processing units known as cores.
In theory, a program on a 64-core machine would be 64 times as fast as it would be on a single-core machine. But it rarely works out that way. Most computer programs are sequential, and splitting them up so that chunks of them can run in parallel causes all kinds of complications.
In the May/June issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ journal Micro, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) will present a new chip design they call Swarm, which should make parallel programs not only much more efficient but easier to write, too.
In simulations, the researchers compared Swarm versions of six common algorithms with the best existing parallel versions, which had been individually engineered by seasoned software developers. The Swarm versions were between three and 18 times as fast, but they generally required only one-tenth as much code — or even less. And in one case, Swarm achieved a 75-fold speedup on a program that computer scientists had so far failed to parallelize.