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Single instruction, multiple data (SIMD), is a class of parallel computers in Flynn's taxonomy. It describes computers with multiple processing elements that perform the same operation on multiple data simultaneously. Thus, such machines exploit data level parallelism.



The first era of SIMD machines was characterized by supercomputers such as the Thinking Machines CM-1 and CM-2. These machines had many limited functionality processors that would work in parallel. For example, each of 64,000 processors in a Thinking Machines CM-2 would execute the same instruction at the same time so that you could do 64,000 multiplies on 64,000 pairs of numbers at a time.

Supercomputing moved away from the SIMD approach when inexpensive scalar MIMD approaches based on commodity processors such as the Intel i860 XP [1] became more powerful, and interest in SIMD waned. Later, personal computers became common, and became powerful enough to support real-time gaming. This created a mass demand for a particular type of computing power, and microprocessor vendors turned to SIMD to meet the demand. Sun Microsystems introduced SIMD integer instructions in its "VIS" instruction set extensions in 1995, in its UltraSPARC I microprocessor. The first widely-deployed SIMD for gaming was Intel's MMX extensions to the x86 architecture. IBM and Motorola then added AltiVec to the POWER architecture, and there have been several extensions to the SIMD instruction sets for both architectures. All of these developments have been oriented toward support for real-time graphics, and are therefore oriented toward vectors of two, three, or four dimensions. When new SIMD architectures need to be distinguished from older ones, the newer architectures are then considered "short-vector" architectures. A modern supercomputer is almost always a cluster of MIMD machines, each of which implements (short-vector) SIMD instructions. A modern desktop computer is often a multiprocessor MIMD machine where each processor can execute short-vector SIMD instructions.


A separate class of processors exists for this sort of task, commonly referred to as Digital Signal Processors, or DSPs. The main difference between DSP and other SIMD-capable CPUs is that the DSPs are self-contained processors with their own instruction set, while SIMD-extensions rely on the general-purpose portions of the CPU to handle the program details, and the SIMD instructions handle the data manipulation only. DSPs also tend to include instructions to handle specific types of data, sound or video for instance, while SIMD systems are considerably of more generic purpose. DSPs generally operate in Scratchpad RAM driven by DMA transfers initiated from the host system and are unable to access external memory.

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