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Polaris - Microarchitectures - Intel
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Polaris µarch
General Info
Arch TypeCPU
IntroductionFebruary 2007
Process65 nm
Core Configs80
L1I Cache3 KiB/core
L1D Cache2 KiB/core

Polaris was a research microarchitecture designed by Intel Labs demonstarting the theoretical capabilities of a many-core chip performing 1 trillion floating point operations. Polaris built the foundation that eventually resulted in Intel's Many Integrated Cores (MIC) Architecture.


Intel originally announced and presented a Polaris wafer at the September 2006 Intel Developer Forum. Technical details were finally presented at IEEE ISSCC 2007. It was a concept project designed to demonstrate the potential of integrating many processing elements on a single silicon chip enabled by Moore's Law in order to achieve a high trillion floating point operations throughput. Polaris was Intel's first public chip as a direct consequence of their Tera-scale Computing Research Program and is the basis of Intel's later research projects which paved the way for Intel's Many Integrated Cores (MIC) architecture and the Xeon Phi many-core processor family.

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intel polaris.png

Block Diagram

Entire Chip

polaris (chip) block diagram.svg

Individual Tile

polaris block diagram.svg

System Overview

polaris stacked.svg

Polaris is a monolithic silicon consisting of 80 tiles arranged in a two-dimensional array of ten rows by eight columns. Each tile is effectively a core (Intel terms a processing engine (PE)) hooked to a router with mesochronous interfaces which is used to forward the packets between the tiles, allowing for clock-phase-insensitive tile-to-tile communication and synchronous operations within each tile. Tiles are linked to all four of their nearest neighbors as well as directly to the stacked SRAM memory.


Each tile contains the core and the crossbar router.


The core, also called a processing engine (PE), executes 96-bit VLIWs encoding up to eight operations per cycle. The core contains two independent fused multiply-accumulates. Each FMA can sustain a multiply-add result (2 FLOPs) every cycle. Operating at 4 GHz, each core is capable of 16 GFLOPS, for a total chip peak performance of 1.28 TFLOPS.

There is a 3 KiB single-cycle instruction cache and a 2 KiB data cache. Each core has a single 32-entry register file with 10 ports (6 reads and 4 writes). A large number of ports allows for the simultaneous execution of a large set of operations such as scheduling to both FMAs, performing a load and store from the L1D$, program control, dynamic sleep instruction, and perform package sending/receiving from the network. Two 32-bit data words can be transferred each cycle between the register file and the data cache. Additionally, up to four 32-bit data words can be issued to the two FMA units each cycle while retaining two 32-bit results on each cycle.

The two FMAs are implemented as fully-pipelined nine stages. This is implemented in nine stages using a single-cycle accumulate with base 32 and internal carry-save arithmetic and delay addition. To perform the single-cycle accumulate, the multiplier output carry-save format is kept and a Wallace tree of 4-2 carry-save adder accumulates the result in a temporary format. Intel claims this eliminated the need for a carry-propagate adder in the critical path. Additionally, since the accumulation is performed in base 32, the variable shifters were replaced by cheap constant shifters.

FMA Unit

The FMA unit, called single-precision floating-point multiply-accumulators (FPMAC), is a nine-stage base-32 single-cycle accumulate algorithm using an intermediary carry-save with delayed addition. Three cycles are dedicated to the multiplier unit (S1 - S3 for four Wallace steps), a single cycle is for the sign inversion (S4) followed by a single cycle for the accumulation loop (S5). Finally, three stages are dedicated to the addition, normalization, and conversion back to base-2 steps (S6-S8).

The unit takes in two 32-bit IEEE-754 single-precision operands and is designed to sustain a single FMA instruction every 250ps (4 GHz). The multiplier itself is a Wallace tree of 4-2 carry-save adders. In total, four Wallace tree stages are dedicated to the compression of partial product bits to a sum and carry and pair. Instead of the traditional carry propagate adder on the final stage, Intel retains the output in carry-save format and then converts the result to a base 32 at stage S3 just before the accumulation.

Network-on-chip (NoC)


intel polaris tiling.png

The underlying concept was to create a highly modular design which could scale from a low number of tiles to a large number of tiles without necessitating a large set of changes. Each tile is connected to a 5-port wormhole-switched router with mesochronous interfaces using two lanes (lane 0/1) for dead-lock free routing and a fully non-blocking crossbar switch with a total bandwidth of 80 GB/s at 4 GHz (32-bit * 4 GHz * 5 ports) with a 1.25ns latency. Taking up a total area of just 0.34 mm², the router is connected to its four nearing neighbors - on the east, west, north, and south. The fifth port is designed to interface with the stacked SRAM which was located directly below the core itself. Links were designed with FIFO-based synchronization using a 4-deep circular FIFO which captures data using a delayed link strobe at the receiving end. Each lane has a 16 FLIT queue, arbiter, and flow control logic. The router is implemented using a 5-stage pipeline with a two-stage round robin arbitration. On the first stage, an input port is bound to an output port in each lane and on the second stage, a spending FLIT is then selected from one of the two lanes. This means the same lanes are reused per-FLIT basis each time. The crossbar data bus is 36 bits wide and is double-pumped at the 4th pipe stage using a dual edge-trigged flip-flop, interleaving alternate data bits. This reduced the crossbar area by roughly 50%.

The entire on-chip network features a bisectional bandwidth of 256 GB/s. The router interface block (RIB) interfaces between the core and the router and performs the packet encapsulations. The architecture allows any core to send or receive instructions and data packets from and to any other core.


Packets consist of two or more Flow control unITs (FLITs). A FLIT is 38 bits of information made up of a 6 control and 32 data bits. The header FLIT (FLIT0) is always sent. The header has a 3-bit destination ID field (DID) which indicates the router exit port. There are 30 bits for a total of 10 maximum hops in the header FLIT. This field is updated at each hop. Flow control management between routers is debit-based using almost-full bits - queue signals are sent by the receiver via the two flow control bits (FC0 and FC1) when its buffers reach a specified threshold. For packets that need to exceed the 10 maximum hops in the header FLIT, the chained header (CH) bit is asserted to extend support for a second FLIT.

The second FLIT (FLIT1) includes various control information such as sleep and wakeup control. While a minimum of two FLITs are always sent, there is no limit as to maximum number.

Control 6 bit
Data 32 bit
Control 6 bit
Data 32 bit
Control 6 bit
Data 32 bit
d31 ... d23 ... d15 ... d7 ... d0
L Lane ID   T Packet tail
V Valid FLIT H Packet Header
FC Flow control (Lane 1:0) CH Chained Header
NPC New PC address enable PCA PC address
SLP PE sleep/wake REN PE execution enable
ADDR I$/D$ write address

Router Interface Block (RIB)

The RIB serves as the interface between the core and the router and performances the necessary synchronizations of data transfers and the power management (e.g., since the core may be stalling on data). 38-bit FLITs get buffered in a 16-entry queue where they get multiplexed and routed to either the D$ (64-bit packets) or I$ (96-bit packet) based on the lane ID field of the FLIT. Note that buffering is done because register file stores to the data cache have priority over the RIB. FLIT1 gets decoded and several control signals are generated, allowing the program execution (REN) to start at the specific address (PCA) through the new program counter bit (NPC).

Note that the RIB is also in charge of the power management during WAKE and SLEEP instructions and can put the entire core into sleep or wake it up depending on the incoming or outgoing packets.

Freya (SRAM)

polaris stacked diagram.png

In order to provide a very high amount of bandwidth Intel had to move the memory very close to the CPU. Even placed next to the CPU die in the same package was not sufficient enough to provide the necessary bandwidth they were seeing. Stacked under the Polaris chip is a large SRAM (codename Freya) consisting of 256 KiB of memory per core for a total of 20 MiB. The connection between the dies uses a highly dense bumps. Intel reported the density to be roughly 4x that of the their 4C. It's worth noting that the reason the SRAM is placed under the CPU die is to allow proper heat dissipation for the CPU die through an active cooling solution on top.

polaris high density bumps.png

The full chip uses 3,200 through-silicon vias. Using wafer-level stacking high-density interconnect could be realized, albeit at reduced flexibility and increased complexity. Overall a bandwidth of greater than 1 TB/s was demonstrated.


Each core operation on a 96-bit very long instruction word which can pack up to eight operations to be issued in a single cycle. There are six classes of instructions with a large set of them possible to be performed simultaneously. For the most parts, instructions are 1-2 cycles in latency with the exception of the 9-cycle FMA. Instructions can issue to both FMA units and perform simultaneous data load and store from memory. There are also instructions for sending and receiving packets from the mesh network as well as program control jumps and branch instructions. There are a number of synchronization primitives for data transfer between cores and a number of sleep and wake instructions for stalling on data. Stalling can be done when the core is waiting for data to arrive from another tile in order to reduce the power consumption.

Instruction Class Latency (cycles)
FPU 9 (See see § FMA Unit)
Load/Store 2
Send/Receive 2
Jump/Branch 1
Stall/WaitForData (WFD) N/A
Sleep/Wake 1-6

Clocking & Power

The on-die PLL uses horizontal M8 and vertical M7 layers for clock distribution. Each layer consists of differential clocks for ow due-cycle variations along the worst-case clock route which is 26 mm. The differential clocks are converted to a single-ended clock at 50% due cycle using the opamp located at each of the tiles. At 4 GHz, 1.2 V supply is 2.2 W, helped by the simultaneous distribution of clock switching across the entire die.

Polaris features a large number of power regions with 21 sleep regions per tile. The ISA offers the ability to sleep and wake any core on demand as desired. Additionally, it's possible to finely control the regions. For example, instructions can independently sleep and wake up each of the FMA units as needed. For example, the core or an FMA can be put to sleep until it recieves more work to operate on from another tile, allowing for an efficient producer-consumer type of workload.


Intel implemented key numerical algorithms from LAPACK on Polaris. Polaris, 110 °C, can achieve a maximum frequency of 3.125 GHz at 1 V for a peak performance of 1 teraFLOPS with a power consumption of 98 W. Alternatively, the chip can also do 4 GHz at 1.2 V for a performance of 1.28 TFLOPS and a power consumption of 181 W.

From a purely power-efficiency perspective, up to 27 GFLOPS/W can be achieved at 968.75 MHz at 0.6 V for a total performance of 310 GFLOPS. At that rating the chip power consumption is a mere 11 Watts.

Power Voltage Frequency Bisectional Bandwidth Performance Efficiency
11 W 0.6 V 968.75 MHz 496.64 Gb/s 310 GFLOPS 28.18 GFLOPS/W
62 W 0.95 V 3.16 GHz 1.62 Tb/s 1.01 TFLOPS 16.31 GFLOPS/W
175 W 1.2 V 5.1 GHz 2.61 Tb/s 1.632 TFLOPS 9.33 GFLOPS/W
265 W 1.35 V 5.7 GHz 2.92 Tb/s 1,824 TFLOPS 6.88 GFLOPS/W


Two different versions of the die were presented at a few different events. The exact difference is not known.

Variant 1


  • Package LGA-1248
    • 66mm x 66mm
    • 8,390 C4 solder bumps
    • 14 layers organic substrate
    • 343 signal pins
  • 65 nm process
    • 1 poly, 8 metal (Cu) layers
  • 21.72 mm x 12.64 mm
    • 274.54 mm² die size
  • 100,000,000 transistors
    • 96,000,000 tiles
      • 1,200,000 transistors/tile
    • 4,000,000 other
intel polaris die.png


  • 1.5 mm x 2.0 mm
  • 3 mm² die size
intel polaris core.png

intel polaris core 3.png

Variant 2


  • 65 nm process
    • 1 poly, 8 metal (Cu) layers
  • 22 mm x 13.75
  • 302.5 mm² die size
intel polaris die 2.png


intel polaris core 2.png

Additional Shots

Additional die and wafer shots provided by Intel:



  • Intel Developer Forum, September 2006
  • IEEE ISSCC 2007
  • IEEE Hot Chips 20 Symposium (HCS) 2008.
  • Vangal, Sriram R., et al. "An 80-tile sub-100-w teraflops processor in 65-nm cmos." IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits 43.1 (2008): 29-41.
codenamePolaris +
core count80 +
designerIntel +
first launchedFebruary 2007 +
full page nameintel/microarchitectures/polaris +
instance ofmicroarchitecture +
manufacturerIntel +
microarchitecture typeCPU +
namePolaris +
pipeline stages9 +
process65 nm (0.065 μm, 6.5e-5 mm) +