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August 17, 2010

Startup Aims to Transform Computing with Probability Processing

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1. MIT spin-out Lyric Semiconductor Inc. has launched a new breed of integrated circuits that replaces the binary logic of traditional computing with probabilistic logic. The aim is to deliver a much more efficient architecture for applications based on probability computing. For these types of workloads, the company is promising orders-of-magnitude improvement in energy efficiency, performance and cost.

Essentially, what Lyric has come up with is a fifth processor architecture, following CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, and FPGAs.


The goal is to construct hardware circuitry and software purpose-built for probability applications. With conventional digital technology, processing has to follow a strictly linear path. This is fine for software like operating systems, spreadsheets, word processing, and database transacthe company's first commercial product will be aimed at advanced error correction for NAND flash memory. Called Lyric Error Correction (LEC), it's designed to relieve the flash memory ECC bottleneck, which is becoming a constraint as semiconductor process geometries shrink. On the 30nm process, flash memory errors are generated at the rate of 1 in 1,000. On the next generation technology, it will be 1 in 100. That means the ECC component of the controller, which is already the largest piece of the device, may become impractical to implement.

As it turns out advanced ECC logic is based on probabilities, so it's a nice fit for Lyric-style circuits. The company is promising a 30-fold reduction in die real estate (for 1 Gbps bandwidths) and a 12-fold improvement in power. The company has ported the device to different process nodes using TSMC as the fab partner, and is claiming yields typical for this class of application. LEC is available for licensing today, with product integration expected in 12 months.

But the real payoff for Lyric is at least a few years down the road. The company is developing the GP5, which stands for general-purpose programmable probability processing platform. The technology is aimed at the broader set of probability applications mentioned above, and, according to the company, will be up to 1,000 times more efficient at these types of tasks than current x86 CPUs. The first samples of the GP5 are slated to appear in 2013.ions, where the computing consists of straightforward calculations or data movement.

Most data mining, predictive analytics, pattern recognition, and modeling/simulation codes fall into this category. That encompasses a wide range of applications including Web searching, financial modeling, genome sequence analysis, speech recognition, climate modeling, credit fraud detection, spam filtering, and financial modeling, among many others. People tend to associate these probability-based applications with human-like intelligence, and this is clearly where software, in general, is moving
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2. Nvidia has released its Quadro Plex 7000 array, Quadro 6000, Quadro 5000 and Quadro 4000 GPUs. These feature the new Scalable Geometry Engines and use the Application Acceleration Engines software.

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