Development efforts around the Phi chips were originally announced in 2010. At the time, the processor was seen as a continued development of a chip called Larrabee, which was to be Intel's first graphics processor but was later scrapped.
The Phi chips were "not designed to be graphics processors," Curley said. The chip is good for visualization and graphics applications, but it is not designed for high-level APIs (application programming interfaces) usually used to design graphics applications like games, Curley said.
Phi is Intel's way to keep up with Moore's Law, which forecasts a doubling of the number of transistors in chips, and therefore a doubling of chip performance, approximately every two years. But balancing performance with power consumption has been a challenge, and programmers are expected to write code that scales across multicore chips.
Intel is providing software tools so applications can be written or recompiled for the Phi chips. Curley said it is easy to recompile existing x86 code so that high-performance applications can take full advantage of the multicore chips.
The Phi chips could also work alongside ARM CPUs in a computing environment, but it would require massive investment from a server maker to build such a system, Curley said.
"There's nothing in the engineering design that precludes it," Curley said. However, he noted that current Phi implementations will be on servers with x86 CPUs.