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SpiNNaker Project - Architectural Overview. SpiNNaker Overview

SpiNNaker (a contraction of Spiking Neural Network Architecture) is a million-core computing engine whose flagship goal is to be able to simulate the behaviour of aggregates of up to a billion neurons in real time. It consists of an array of ARM9 cores, communicating via packets carried by a custom interconnect fabric. The packets are small (40 or 72 bits), and their transmission is brokered entirely by hardware, giving the overall engine an extremely high bisection bandwidth of over 5 billion packets/s. Three of the principle axioms of parallel machine design - memory coherence, synchronicity and determinism - have been discarded in the design without, surprisingly, compromising the ability to perform meaningful computations. A further attribute of the system is the acknowledgment, from the initial design stages, that the sheer size of the implementation will make component failures an inevitable aspect of day-to-day operation, and fault detection and recovery mechanisms have been built into the system at many levels of abstraction.

The SpiNNaker engine is a massively-parallel multi-core computing system. It will contain up to 1,036,800 ARM9 cores and 7Tbytes of RAM distributed throughout the system in 57K nodes, each node being a System-in-Package (SiP) containing 18 cores plus a 128Mbyte off-die SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory). Each core has associated with it 64Kbytes of data tightly-coupled memory (DTCM) and 32Kbytes of instruction tightly-coupled memory (ITCM). The cores have a variety of ways of communicating with each other and with the memory, the dominant of which is by packets. These are 5- or 9-byte (40- or 72-bit) quanta of information that are transmitted around the system under the aegis of a bespoke concurrent hardware routing system.

The physical hierarchy of the system has each node containing two silicon dies - the SpiNNaker chip itself, plus the Mobile DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM, which is physically mounted on top of the SpiNNaker die and stitch-bonded to it. The nodes are packaged and mounted in a 48-node hexagonal array on a PCB (Printed Circuit Board), the full system requiring 1,200 such boards. In operation, the engine consumes at most 90kW of electrical power.