IBM set to boost PC’s memory and Virtual World applications

IBM researchers say they have set a speed record for a type of computer memory that promises a fundamental performance rise in a coming generation of microprocessors with multiple computing engines.

IBM appears to be planning to integrate ultra-fast memory directly into its Processor. Intel has been hinting that it will instead stack memory chips on top of its processors to achieve similar performance.

Both companies IBM and Intel are struggling with the challenge of quickly moving vast amounts of data inside processors that increasingly have multiple processing engines, or cores, to achieve faster performance.

The IBM achievement is described in a paper presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference, a gathering used by chip and computer companies to highlight technology advances. Intel already demonstrated a Teraflop chip that integrated 80 separate processing engines.

IBM had been able to reduce memory cycle times to less than 2 nanoseconds, roughly 10 times the performance of off-the-shelf dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, used in PCs.

The IBM memory, called embedded dynamic random access memory, or eDRAM can be used as a sort of simple scratchpad or temporary storage unit that speeds operations by keeping data inside a microprocessor for reuse while it is being processed. Cache memories like these vastly hasten computation by reducing processor waiting time to perform new calculations.

Coming to the virtual world achievement of IBM, they didn’t throw a lavish casino party or set up an over-the-top booth to mark its return to the International Consumer Electronics Show for the first time in a decade.

Rather, it reserved its most ambitious consumer initiative for the virtual world. IBM plans to build virtual stores for Sears Holdings and Circuit City Stores in the popular online world ‘Second Life’. The deals could help IBM expand its consulting services to corporate clients interested in the growing number of people who belong to immersive online environments, also called the ‘3-D Internet’.

’Second Life’ is a subscription-based, 3-D fantasy world devoted to capitalism a 21st century version of Monopoly that generates real money for successful players. More than 2.4 million people have ‘Second Life’ characters, called avatars. At one point 22,000 avatars were logged onto ‘Second Life’, socializing by instant messages or engaging in virtual pastimes such as flying, dancing, gambling or watching adult videos.

At the Sears Virtual Home, avatars of IBM architects greeted guests with glasses of merlot and invitations to sit in recliners and watch flat-screen televisions in a fantasy home theatre. The idea is to help users see how Sears’ refrigerators, TVs, counter tops, garage doors, storage cabinets and other products look in a 3-D environment.

Visitors can swap cabinets with counter tops to determine which combination they like most, and they may follow links to buy items from the Sears’ website. Eventually, avatars will be able to type in precise room dimensions and come up with design ideas and blueprints for kitchens, garages or home theatres.

In the Circuit City headquarters on ‘Second Life’, avatars could get info on products sold in stores and configure couches and flat-screen TVs to see what may look best in their living room.
AP “digital adviser” gave tips about moving the couch back or forward depending on the size of the monitor.

IBM’s chief technologist acknowledged that virtual-world business is in the experimental stage. On a particular day hundreds of avatars were naked and hairless because of a software glitch resulting from so many users trying to participate at once.

The company that runs ‘Second Life’, Linden Lab, warned that a security breach may have exposed users’ data, including credit card numbers and passwords. These virtual worlds are viewed at a very early stage, both technically and culturally. Commerce & collaboration are two key areas ripe for applying virtual worlds to real life, but applications in education, health care and many other areas can also be envisaged.