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Knights Landing to bring 72 compute cores to workstations next year

Although developers are still trying to figure out how to utilise additional cores in meaningful ways, adding extra threads to a CPU is certainly an easier way to improve performance than boosting clock speed and other traditional techniques of speeding up a processor. So perhaps that’s why Intel has one with a ridiculous 72 cores that it wants to bring to desktop systems from its super-computing labs.

Known as the Knights Landing version of a Xeon Phi chip, Intel says it will be shipping a select number of workstations that are built around the monstrous chip, as soon as 2016. The larger than usual systems are traditionally designed with high-end scientific calculations, film editing and other performance intensive tasks in mind – a place where a chip designed to enhance the power of a supercomputer could really come in handy.

While any mention of desktop systems and super-computing parts is likely to have the enthusiasts among you frothing at the mouth, Intel isn’t planning on using the Knights Landing chip to change the way we operate our home PCs. This is an experiment to see if Intel’s super-computing hardware can be used in more general scenarios to help augment already existing hardware.

As PCWorld explains it, the Knights Landing CPUs will be loaded into the workstations individually as an add-in card, and will handle background tasks like the operating system’s maintenance, as well as providing some assistance to improve application performance.

How is it capable of this? Because it’s built much more like graphics hardware than traditional CPUs. It offers parallel computing, yet still utilizes the x86 instruction set.

It’s because of this different way of doing things that the Xeon Phi chips are not really designed with traditional desktops in mind, but that does not mean that some of its innovations won’t carry over to future consumer grade hardware. For example, the Knights Landing chips have 15GB of on-board MCDRAM, providing masses of memory bandwidth (much more than DDR4) on the package, so latency is almost non-existent.

Although not available to buy just yet, previously models of this sort of workstation chip have cost several thousand dollars a piece, so expect this one to be roughly the same.