Computing 'paradigm shift' could see phones and laptops run twice as fast — without replacing a single component

Multi Colored Computer Silicon Wafer Extreme Close-up Shot.
A new approach to computing could double the processing speed of devices without needing to replace any of the existing components. (Image credit: MirageC via Getty Images)

A new approach to computing could double the processing speed of devices like phones or laptops without needing to replace any of the existing components.

Modern devices are fitted with different chips that handle various types of processing. Alongside the central processing unit (CPU), devices have graphics processing units (GPUs), hardware accelerators for artificial intelligence (AI) workloads and digital signal processing units to process audio signals. 

Due to conventional program execution models, however, these components process data from one program separately and in sequence, which slows down processing times. 

Information moves from one unit to the next depending on which is most efficient at handling a particular region of code in a program. This creates a bottleneck, as one processor needs to finish its job before handing over a new task to the next processor in line. 

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To solve this, scientists have devised a new framework for program execution in which the processing units work in parallel. The team outlined the new approach, dubbed "simultaneous and heterogeneous multithreading (SHMT)," in a paper published in December 2023 to the preprint server arXiv.  

SHMT utilizes processing units simultaneously for the same code region — rather than waiting for processors to work on different regions of the code in a sequence based on which component is best for a particular workload. 

Another method commonly used to resolve this bottleneck is known as "software pipelining," and speeds things up by letting different components work on different tasks at the same time, rather than waiting for one processor to finish up before the other begins operating. 

However, in software pipelining, one single task can never be distributed between different components. This is not true of SHMT, which lets different processing units work on the same code region at the same time, while letting them also take on new workloads once they've done their bit.

"You don't have to add new processors because you already have them," lead author Hung-Wei Tseng, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, Riverside, said in a statement

The scientists applied SHMT to a prototype system they built with a multi-core ARM CPU, an Nvidia GPU  and a tensor processing unit (TPU) hardware accelerator. In tests, it performed tasks 1.95 times faster and consumed 51% less energy than a system that worked in the conventional way.

SHMT is more energy efficient too because much of the work that is normally handled exclusively by more energy-intensive components — like the GPU — can be offloaded to low-power hardware accelerators. 

If this software framework is applied to existing systems, it could reduce hardware costs while also reducing carbon emissions, the scientists claimed, because it takes less time to handle workloads using more energy-efficient components. It might also reduce the demand for fresh water to cool massive data centers - if the technology is used in larger systems.

However, the study was just a demonstration of a prototype system. The researchers cautioned that further work is needed to determine how such a model can be implemented in practical settings, and which use cases or applications it will benefit the most. 

Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Channel Editor, Technology

Keumars is the technology editor at Live Science. He has written for a variety of publications including ITPro, The Week Digital, ComputerActive, The Independent, The Observer, Metro and TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a technology journalist for more than five years, having previously held the role of features editor with ITPro. He is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a degree in biomedical sciences from Queen Mary, University of London. He's also registered as a foundational chartered manager with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), having qualified as a Level 3 Team leader with distinction in 2023.

  • Steve.Nordquist
    Nice brief title. I'd have been like 'Leave your P, E, Arm22, Ryzen, CUDA and Annapurna schedulers (and process leak greying) and follow the TPU NPU way; who shall not receive manifold more.' But there's also room for a Team Rocket chant, I think.

    Anyone done a line reading of TFA or the schedulers on StackExchange or such?
  • JDSostrom
    Multitasking has been the hallmark of mainframe computing since the early 1970s and late 60s. The IBM mainframes were at the forefront of multiprocessing. It is nice to see PCs and Cell phones finally catching up.
  • Jan Steinman
    It wasn't clear how SHMT was implemented.

    Was this an OS-level change? Or did it require re-programming of individual applications in order to do multi-threading in some new way?

    If the latter, I think it's a non-starter. Not many are going to be willing to pay for such performance increases. Most people are content with "good enough."

    Now if Apple or Microsoft or the open-source Linux community can achieve these gains from existing software, that's interesting indeed!
  • adamz
    The Commodore Amiga did this as a PC in the 1980s, with great success. Why not apply that logic to modern devices?