IBM Specs Out Blue Gene/Q Chip

By Michael Feldman

August 22, 2011

At the Hot Chips conference in Santa Clara last week, IBM lifted the curtain on its Blue Gene/Q SoC, which will soon power some of the highest performing supercomputers in the world. Next year, two DOE labs are slated to boot up the most powerful Blue Gene systems ever deployed: the 10-petaflop “Mira” system at Argonne National Lab, and the 20-petaflop “Sequoia” super at Lawrence Livermore.  Both will employ the latest Blue Gene/Q processor described at the conference.

That, of course, is assuming IBM doesn’t back out of those projects as it did recently with its 10-petaflop Power7-based (PERCS) Blue Waters supercomputer for NCSA at the University of Illinois. The company terminated the contract to build and support the $300 million Blue Waters system based on financial considerations, leaving the NCSA and its NSF sponsor looking for another vendor to fill the void. The DOE is certainly not expecting to endure that fate for their Blue Gene/Q acquisitions.

The unveiling of the Blue Gene/Q SoC last week implies IBM is committed to those DOE machines as well as futures systems. And Unlike the Power7 CPU, which is being used for both enterprise and HPC systems, the Blue Gene technology has always been exclusively designed and built for supercomputing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both, the Power7 and new Blue Gene SoC use IBM’s 45 nm SOI technology, but the similarity end there. As described at Hot Chips, the BGQ processor is an 18-core CPU, 16 of which will be used for the application, one for the OS, and one held in reserve. And even though the chip is a custom design, it uses the PowerPC A2 core that IBM introduced last year at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference. The architecture represents yet another PowerPC variant, which in this case merges the functionality of network and server processors. IBM is using the A2 architecture to implement PowerEN chips for the more traditional datacenter applications such as edge-of-network processing, intelligent I/O devices in servers, network attached appliances, distributed computing, and streaming applications.

As such, the A2 architecture emphasizes throughput and energy efficiency, running at relatively modest clock speeds. In the case of the Blue Gene/Q implementation, the clock is just 1.6 GHz and consumes a modest 55 watts at peak. To further reduce power consumption, the chip makes extensive use of clock gating.

But thanks to the double-digit core count, support for up to four threads per core, and the quad floating-point unit, it delivers a very respectable 204 gigaflops per processor. Contrast that with the Power7, which at 3.5 GHz and 8 cores delivers about 256 gigaflops, but consumes a hefty 200 watts.

That gives the Blue Gene/Q chip nearly three times the energy efficiency per peak FLOP compared to the more computationally muscular Power7 (3.72 gigaflops/watt versus 1.28 gigaflops/watt). IBM has been able to capture most of that energy efficiency in the Blue Gene/Q servers. The current top-ranked system on the latest Green500 list is a prototype machine that measures 2.1 gigaflops/watt for Linpack, beating even the newest GPU-accelerated machines as well as the Sparc64 VIIIfx-based K supercomputer, the current champ of the TOP500.

Even compared to its Blue Gene predecessors, BGQ represents a step change in performance, thanks to a large bump in both core count and clock frequency. The Blue Gene/Q chip delivers a 15 times as many peak FLOPS its Blue Gene/P counterpart and a 36 times as many as the original Blue Gene/L SoC.

Version Core Architecture Core Count Clock Speed Peak Performance
Blue Gene/L PowerPC 440 2 700 MHz 5.6 Gigaflops
Blue Gene/P PowerPC 450 4 850 MHz 13.6 Gigaflops
Blue Gene/Q PowerPC A2 18 1600 MHz 204.8 Gigaflops

As with Blue Gene/L and P, the Q incarnation uses embedded DRAM (eDRAM), a dynamic random access memory architecture that is integrated onto the processor ASIC. The technology is employed for shared Level 2 cache, replacing the less performant SRAM technology used in traditional CPUs. In the case of Blue Gene/Q, 32 MB of L2 cache have been carved out.

What is brand new for the latest version is transactional memory. According an EE Times report, the addition of transactional memory will give IBM the distinction of becoming the first company to deliver commercial chips with such technology.

Transactional memory is a technology used to simplify parallel programming by protecting shared data from concurrent access. Basically it prevents data from being corrupted by multiple threads when they simultaneously want to read or write a particular item, and does so in a much more transparent way to the application than the traditional locking mechanism in common use today.

The technology can be implemented in both hardware, software, and a combination of the two. It has been studied by a number of vendors over the years, most notably Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. According to the EE Times report, IBM’s implementation exploits the high performance on-chip eDRAM to achieve better latency compared to traditional locking schemes.

If everything goes according to plan, the new processor will elevate the Blue Gene franchise into the double-digit petaflops realm. The aforementioned Mira and Sequoia, taken together, represent 30 petaflops of supercomputing and will both be top 10 systems in 2012.  Sequoia, in particular, is positioned to be the top-ranked supercomputer next year, assuming no surprises from China or elsewhere.

Whether the BGQ architecture is the end of the line for the Blue Gene franchise is an open question. As of today, there is no R system on the roadmap and IBM seems to be leaning toward a Power-architecture-only strategy for its custom supercomputing lineup. Even if IBM is able to repurpose the cores of other PowerPC architectures, designing and implementing a custom SoC for a single niche market, albeit a high-margin one, is an expensive proposition.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Nvidia Rolls Out Certified Server Program Targeting AI Applications

January 26, 2021

Nvidia today launched a certified systems program in which participating vendors can offer Nvidia-certified servers with up to eight A100 GPUs. Separate support contracts directly from Nvidia for the certified systems ar Read more…

By John Russell

XSEDE Supercomputers Square Off Against Ebola

January 26, 2021

COVID-19 may have dominated headlines and occupied much of the world’s scientific computing capacity over the last year, but many researchers continued their work to keep other deadly viruses at bay. One of those, Ebol Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

What’s New in HPC Research: Galaxies, Fugaku, Electron Microscopes & More

January 25, 2021

In this regular feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Red Hat’s Disruption of CentOS Unleashes Storm of Dissent

January 22, 2021

Five weeks after angering much of the CentOS Linux developer community by unveiling controversial changes to the no-cost CentOS operating system, Red Hat has unveiled alternatives for affected users that give them severa Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

China Unveils First 7nm Chip: Big Island

January 22, 2021

Shanghai Tianshu Zhaoxin Semiconductor Co. is claiming China’s first 7-nanometer chip, described as a leading-edge, general-purpose cloud computing chip based on a proprietary GPU architecture. Dubbed “Big Island Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Solution Channel

Fire Dynamics Simulation CFD workflow on AWS

Modeling fires is key for many industries, from the design of new buildings, defining evacuation procedures for trains, planes and ships, and even the spread of wildfires. Read more…

HiPEAC Keynote: In-Memory Computing Steps Closer to Practical Reality

January 21, 2021

Pursuit of in-memory computing has long been an active area with recent progress showing promise. Just how in-memory computing works, how close it is to practical application, and what are some of the key opportunities a Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Rolls Out Certified Server Program Targeting AI Applications

January 26, 2021

Nvidia today launched a certified systems program in which participating vendors can offer Nvidia-certified servers with up to eight A100 GPUs. Separate support Read more…

By John Russell

Red Hat’s Disruption of CentOS Unleashes Storm of Dissent

January 22, 2021

Five weeks after angering much of the CentOS Linux developer community by unveiling controversial changes to the no-cost CentOS operating system, Red Hat has un Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

HiPEAC Keynote: In-Memory Computing Steps Closer to Practical Reality

January 21, 2021

Pursuit of in-memory computing has long been an active area with recent progress showing promise. Just how in-memory computing works, how close it is to practic Read more…

By John Russell

HiPEAC’s Vision for a New Cyber Era, a ‘Continuum of Computing’

January 21, 2021

Earlier this week (Jan. 19), HiPEAC — the European Network on High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation — published the 8th edition of the HiPEAC Vision, detailing an increasingly interconnected computing landscape where complex tasks are carried out across multiple... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

President-elect Biden Taps Eric Lander and Deep Team on Science Policy

January 19, 2021

Last Friday U.S. President-elect Joe Biden named The Broad Institute founding director and president Eric Lander as his science advisor and as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lander, 63, is a mathematician by training and distinguished life sciences... Read more…

By John Russell

Pat Gelsinger Returns to Intel as CEO

January 14, 2021

The Intel board of directors has appointed a new CEO. Intel alum Pat Gelsinger is leaving his post as CEO of VMware to rejoin the company that he parted ways with 11 years ago. Gelsinger will succeed Bob Swan, who will remain CEO until Feb. 15. Gelsinger previously spent 30 years... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

By John Russell

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

By John Russell

Esperanto Unveils ML Chip with Nearly 1,100 RISC-V Cores

December 8, 2020

At the RISC-V Summit today, Art Swift, CEO of Esperanto Technologies, announced a new, RISC-V based chip aimed at machine learning and containing nearly 1,100 low-power cores based on the open-source RISC-V architecture. Esperanto Technologies, headquartered in... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

NICS Unleashes ‘Kraken’ Supercomputer

April 4, 2008

A Cray XT4 supercomputer, dubbed Kraken, is scheduled to come online in mid-summer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS). The soon-to-be petascale system, and the resulting NICS organization, are the result of an NSF Track II award of $65 million to the University of Tennessee and its partners to provide next-generation supercomputing for the nation's science community. Read more…

Is the Nvidia A100 GPU Performance Worth a Hardware Upgrade?

October 16, 2020

Over the last decade, accelerators have seen an increasing rate of adoption in high-performance computing (HPC) platforms, and in the June 2020 Top500 list, eig Read more…

By Hartwig Anzt, Ahmad Abdelfattah and Jack Dongarra

Aurora’s Troubles Move Frontier into Pole Exascale Position

October 1, 2020

Intel’s 7nm node delay has raised questions about the status of the Aurora supercomputer that was scheduled to be stood up at Argonne National Laboratory next year. Aurora was in the running to be the United States’ first exascale supercomputer although it was on a contemporaneous timeline with... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

By Tracey Bryant

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Top500: Fugaku Keeps Crown, Nvidia’s Selene Climbs to #5

November 16, 2020

With the publication of the 56th Top500 list today from SC20's virtual proceedings, Japan's Fugaku supercomputer – now fully deployed – notches another win, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Texas A&M Announces Flagship ‘Grace’ Supercomputer

November 9, 2020

Texas A&M University has announced its next flagship system: Grace. The new supercomputer, named for legendary programming pioneer Grace Hopper, is replacing the Ada system (itself named for mathematician Ada Lovelace) as the primary workhorse for Texas A&M’s High Performance Research Computing (HPRC). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

At Oak Ridge, ‘End of Life’ Sometimes Isn’t

October 31, 2020

Sometimes, the old dog actually does go live on a farm. HPC systems are often cursed with short lifespans, as they are continually supplanted by the latest and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to Massive SARS-CoV-2 Simulations

November 19, 2020

2020 has proven a harrowing year – but it has produced remarkable heroes. To that end, this year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) introduced the Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia and EuroHPC Team for Four Supercomputers, Including Massive ‘Leonardo’ System

October 15, 2020

The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) serves as Europe’s concerted supercomputing play, currently comprising 32 member states and billions of euros in funding. I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Intel Xe-HP GPU Deployed for Aurora Exascale Development

November 17, 2020

At SC20, Intel announced that it is making its Xe-HP high performance discrete GPUs available to early access developers. Notably, the new chips have been deplo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia-Arm Deal a Boon for RISC-V?

October 26, 2020

The $40 billion blockbuster acquisition deal that will bring chipmaker Arm into the Nvidia corporate family could provide a boost for the competing RISC-V architecture. As regulators in the U.S., China and the European Union begin scrutinizing the impact of the blockbuster deal on semiconductor industry competition and innovation, the deal has at the very least... Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE, AMD and EuroHPC Partner for Pre-Exascale LUMI Supercomputer

October 21, 2020

Not even a week after Nvidia announced that it would be providing hardware for the first four of the eight planned EuroHPC systems, HPE and AMD are announcing a Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This