1-Million Processor Neuromorphic Supercomputer Goes Live

Microchips with circuits connecting them

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Manchester University’s SpiNNaker neuromorphic supercomputer reached another major milestone as a recent upgrade added another 500,000 processor cores. The machine, designed to offer computing functionality similar to the human brain, now boasts one million processors.

20 years in the making

Unlike traditional supercomputers, SpiNNaker, short for Spiking Neural Network Architecture, has been designed to mimic the functionality of the human brain. Instead of sending massive amounts of data over a traditional network, SpiNNaker uses parallel processing to sends billions of small amounts of information to thousands of destinations simultaneously.

To achieve this massive parallel processing capabilities, the SpiNNaker project team had to develop a special multicore System-on-Chip using ARM968 nodes. The computer is the result of 20 years planning and design, 12 years construction and more than £15 million ($19.2m) funding.

Some way to go yet

Despite the immense processing power available, the SpiNNaker has some way to go before it can rival a real human brain. With 1m processor cores, the supercomputer is capable of replicating 1 million neurons; it would need 100,000 times more cores to truly recreate the processing power of a human brain.

Despite this apparent limitation, scientists are certain that SpiNNaker will help them better understand how our brains work to solve problems, control the complex machinations of our bodies and store memories. 

What about storage?

Because SpiNNaker is primarily concerned with the “how” of brain function, storage is relatively spartan. Each System-on-Chip module contains 18 cores and just 128MB of SDRAM memory. The entire supercomputer has just over 7TB of storage for raw processing.

As you can see, this machine is designed for testing the process of computation, rather than heavy number crunching as is the case with most supercomputers. Nonetheless, the SpiNNaker project may still have serious implications and insights for future hardware development.

Ironically, your current IT systems will outclass SpiNNaker in terms of raw storage several times over. And if you need storage hardware assistance for traditional server arrays, CDS is ready and waiting for your call.

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