Imagine a computer that could search for mutations in complicated strands of DNA in hours rather than days. Or a cellphone that could in moments scan all of its stored videos and cull out those with images of Grandma by using facial recognition technology.
Such possibilities and more might come from a new processor from Micron Technology Inc.
The Automata processor, announced by Micron at the recent Supercomputing 13 conference in Denver, is being called a revolutionary approach to processing massive amounts of data while enhancing speed and efficiency. Its applications range from medicine and security to sifting and analyzing complicated, difficult data.
Automata processors also might enhance the company's fortunes. They provide Micron yet another path toward product diversity and away from its reliance on cranking out basic memory chips, such as dynamic random access memory (DRAM).
Announcement of the device came six months after Micron bought bankrupt Japanese chip-maker Elpida Memory Inc., a move that industry analysts called a steal for the Boise company. The purchase contributed to Micron's $1.71 billion profit in its fourth quarter, up from $43 million the quarter before.
It also came just months after the company announced a 5 percent reduction in its 30,000-employee worldwide workforce after Elpida's purchase, including more than 350 at the Boise campus, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
Company officials won't give specifics on how research on products such as the Automata could affect jobs at Micron. The company employs a little more than 5,000 people in Boise.
Though Micron's new processor is generating positive buzz in the industry, it's coming of age with some challenges.
"It's a relatively novel technology that needs to break into some well-established markets that do things other ways," said Brian Shirley, Micron vice president of DRAM Solutions. "It still has a sizable path in front of it to get to the point where it would be millions of devices."
A NEW HIGHWAY FOR DATA
Automata (pronounced ah-TAH-muh-tah) is a reconfigurable device with tens of thousands of tiny processing elements fusing logic and memory, said Paul Dlugosch, director of Automata processor technology. The device can crunch tens of thousands of bits of information at the same time.
It's like a freeway with thousands of lanes to handle traffic, compared to conventional processors that have fewer lanes and a fixed regimen for processing, said Jim Handy, founder of Objective Analysis, a California company that watches the semiconductor industry.
The device can process and analyze unstructured data, which doesn't fit into a neat, confined database. And its thousands of tiny processing elements give it an edge in pattern recognition. (continued...)
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