Micron provides a software view into new coprocessor

A software kit for programmers should give developers an idea how the co-processor could work

Just as graphics card makers like Nvidia found a secondary market for their wares as system-fortifying coprocessors, Micron is plotting to sell booster computational elements based on its memory technologies.

Called AP (Automata Processor), the technology "is fundamentally built on memory technology, but it is a processor, not a storage device," said Paul Dlugosch, Micron director of Automata Processor development. Micron is one of the world's leading providers of silicon-based memory components, such as DRAM, NAND, and NOR Flash. So, the company is drawing on its considerable experience in memory design and production.

Although the computational element probably won't be commercially released until next year, the company released a software development kit Tuesday that will allow programmers to familiarize themselves with the technology.

Like graphical processors, AP should excel at executing many small computations in parallel, which could be useful for fields such as bioinformatics, mass video and image analysis, and network security monitoring. AP can work to supplement a server's main processor, rather than replace it, executing select tasks with more computational and energy efficiency.

AP has a reconfigurable processing architecture, allowing developers to redesign how the chip works to accommodate a particular workload. By pairing the data with the computational element, it could tackle one of the most difficult problems in system design: how to reduce the latency inherent in getting the data to the processor.

AP is also designed to be able to execute the same instruction across multiple sets of data, potentially making it a lower-power alternative to traditional processors for tasks such as graph analysis, pattern matching and data and graph analysis.

The SDK (software development kit), which is available by request from the Automata Processor portal, includes a visual code editor, a compiler, a rules checker, and an AP simulator.

To further get the word out about AP, Micron has also partnered with the University of Virginia to found the Center for Automata Processing, to provide a home for researching and teaching how the technology can be used.