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Adapteva announces Raspberry Pi competitor

Semiconductor start-up Adapteva has announced plans to create an open-source experimentation board with a massive amount of parallel processing power, and it's found a novel way to raise the funds it needs: Kickstarter.

Founded in 2008 by Andreas Olofsson, the company’s chief executive officer, Adapteva was the first semiconductor company to really push for a many-core design. While the company’s original promise of 1,000 general-purpose processors on a single chip has yet to be realised, the company has released 16-core and 64-core designs on 65nm and 28nm processes and makes some bold claims: according to Adapteva, its latest Epiphany-IV processor design packs 50GHz of CPU-equivalent general-purpose processing power in a 10mm¬≤ package that draws just 2W.

Thus far, Adapteva’s chips haven’t hit the mainstream, thanks largely to a very high cost per chip due to the low volumes in which they are created and sold. Olofsson has a plan to change that, though, and in doing so create a credit card-sized device along the lines of the Raspberry Pi – but with considerably more processing power.

The Parallella, as Olofsson has christened the device, is a USB-powered prototyping board offering a vast quantity of general-purpose input-output alongside a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 central processing unit. Where the device differs from the Raspberry Pi, however, is in the co-processor: a 16-core Epiphany-III chip in the $99 ‘basic’ version, or a 64-core Epiphany-IV chip in the $199 ‘advanced’ version which will only be produced if a certain funding goal is met.

We spoke to Olofsson ahead of the Kickstarter project opening, and he certainly isn’t setting his sights low. “Our big goal is that this is going to be as successful as the Raspberry Pi,” Olofsson explained. “That’s the end-goal. But addressing a different market, obviously. We’re not at $35 or $25, we’re at $99, but with vastly more performance.”

The increased performance from the highly-parallel Epiphany architecture isn’t Parallella’s only differentiation from the Raspberry Pi project: Olofsson promises that, if the Kickstarter funding goal is met, the Parallella project will be fully open-source.

“If this project works and if it gets funding, we’re going to be opening up all documentation,” Olofsson claimed. “No more secrets about what our architecture and chip can do, and all the software development tools are going to be open-sourced and given away for free.”

Adapteva’s Parallella project can be found on Kickstarter.

If you’re curious as to why Olofsson chose to fund the Parallella through Kickstarter, his opinion on what makes a successful processor architecture, his opinion on closed-source platforms, or how he sees the project transforming how programming is taught – and why that’s so important – be sure to check out our in-depth interview in Linux User & Developer Issue 120.