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Many-core interface identifies chips to OS, software

Posted: 01 Aug 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multi-core processors? XML? MCA?

Non-profit industry consortium the Multicore Association (MCA) is making big strides in advancing the Software-Hardware Interface for Multi-Many Core (SHIM), which is a standard that involves automatically passing hardware details about a many-core processor to low-level software such as operating systems and developer's tools.

The effort has already attracted the attention of Renesas and Xilinx, who are joining MCA in part to participate in it. The working group aims to deliver, by the end of the year, an initial standard using XML models, then turn attention to ironing out implementation issues for specific use cases.

SHIM got its start as part of a broader, government-funded project in Japan aiming to define a broad range of standards to ease development of multi-core processors. The head of Japan's SHIM effort-Masaki Gondo, a general manager at eSOL-contacted MCA, and the group agreed to host work on the specific standard. Gondo was named chair of the MCA effort.

Three other participants in the Japan programme joined the MCA effort. The working group also now includes members from Cavium, CriticalBlue, Freescale, Mentor Graphics, Nokia Siemens Networks, PolyCore Software, Texas Instruments, TOPS Systems, Vector Fabrics, and Wind River.

Specifically, the group will define XML models to describe attributes such as the type and number of cores in a processor, synchronisation mechanisms, inter-core communication channels, memory system details, interconnects, and virtualisation capabilities. Chip makers will use these models to automatically report details of their chips in a standard way to operating systems and developer tools such as performance analysis programs, runtime libraries, and auto-parallelizing compilers.

SHIM will be capable of describing vendor-specific capabilities for custom tools. The XML models will be publicly available, but vendor-specific chip details can remain confidential between a processor vendor and its software partners.

The XML models are intended to be descriptive for configuration purposes, not functional for use in simulations. However, they are intended for use in rough performance estimates that might inform decisions about how software automatically configures itself.

SHIM aims to replace manual software configuration by engineers and existing proprietary formats that handle similar jobs.

"At a minimum, SHIM will enable us to more easily support successive generations of SoCs from semiconductor vendors without requiring extensive development tool upgrades," said Masaki Gondo in a press release to be posted at MCA's website.

"Ultimately, SHIM will promote highly optimised tools that can provide efficient utilisation of very complex SoCs and eliminate the need for users to comprehend 1000-page manuals to program all the device features," said Markus Levy, MCA's president, also speaking in the release.

Levy noted the IEEE's IP-XACT standard is related to SHIM in some ways. There is some overlap in what they report, but IP-XACT gives more details on connections between hardware blocks and is intended for use by hardware designers. SHIM presents more details about latencies, cache types and sizes, and other details of interest for its target audience of software developers.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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