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Tachyum's Prodigy emulator achieves first boot, runs Linux and says 'hello, world'

'Universal processor' startup still no nearer to proving bold claims of tenfold performance gain over Chipzilla, AMD

Tachyum has announced a milestone on the road to finally launching its much-vaunted high-performance "universal processor," Prodigy, with a first-boot into Linux - but its FPGA prototype is still a long way away from proving the company's bold claims.

Founded in 2017 by a team made up of Skyera and SandForce co-founder Dr Radoslav "Rado" Danilak, Wave Computing co-founder Ken Wagner, engineer Igor Shevlyakov, and hardware architect Rod Mullendore, Tachyum is in the process of designing what it calls a "universal processor.' Dubbed Prodigy, the design - originally known as the "Cloud Chip" - is claimed to be able to run programs written for x86, Arm, and RISC-V architectures as well as its own native architecture, and to do so 10 times faster than its rivals.

In the years since its unveiling, Tachyum's claims haven't wavered - but they also haven't yet been proven, something which didn't stop the company joining an EU project to build an exascale supercomputer. Earlier this year, Tachyum announced the delivery of its first FPGA-based Prodigy system emulator - and now, around three months on, it has laid claim to a successful first run of a Linux operating system and a simple user-mode application.

"In the last few months the entire company, led by Krishna Thatipelli's design team, has made tremendous progress on Prodigy," said architecture manager Bill Radke in a video presentation demonstrating the company's work, "maturing our processor core to the point where we're announcing groundbreaking news: that the Prodigy Processor FPGA Prototype is now booting a Linux kernel, running a user-mode application, and shutting down successfully.

"This is one of the most critical points in proving a mature design and verification of a high-end processor. The design includes CPU cores, caches, memories, TLBs, and a console, and the simulation uses exceptions, interrupts, page-walking, and both user- and kernel-mode execution. It's not just a hardware and software design success, but also a key verification milestone."

During the demo, Radke showed the dual-board prototype platform - one board handling input/output peripherals including memory and storage and the other hosting up to four FPGA-based processor prototypes - being loaded with the Prodigy soft-core binary, then booting into a text-only Linux environment. Sadly, the demo stopped short of any user interaction: instead, it automatically executed a simple "hello world" program from user space then shut down.


It's a far cry from proving the company's headline claims for its novel processor design: Tachyum still says its Prodigy will offer a fourfold reduction in total cost of ownership over rival processors from Intel and AMD, driven by a tenfold reduction in power draw core-for-core, while being capable of beating Nvidia's "fastest GPU" in high-performance compute and AI-related workloads, but has yet to offer any real-world proof for its expectations.

Radke, though, is confident that progress continues. "Our next milestone video," he promised, "will be running a much larger set of services and user-mode applications from interactive sessions."

"Despite some hurdles in acquiring some IO IP [input/output intellectual property licences] from our suppliers, we are very pleased with the progress that has been made in bringing Prodigy to life," said Danilak, a company co-founder and chief executive officer.

"Achieving a successful Linux boot in two months after receiving the FPGA IO motherboard prototype is a huge milestone. As we turn to further debugging and testing, we look forward to being able to run larger user-mode applications on the Prodigy prototype next month. This is an exciting journey, as we continue our drive toward enabling human brain-scale AI, while significantly reducing data centre power consumption."

Tachyum has said it is ready to begin offering the FPGA emulator to customers, and that it is on-track to tape-out the first Prodigy part by the end of 2021 - though that's after missing its original schedule to begin manufacturing of physical Prodigy chips at TSMC by the end of 2019.

The first-boot demo video is available here. The company had not responded to queries regarding the architecture for which the demo applications were compiled by the time of publication. ®

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