Adapteva Builds Manycore Processor That Will Deliver 70 Gigaflops/Watt

By Michael Feldman

October 3, 2011

In May, chip startup Adapteva debuted Epiphany, a manycore architecture designed to maximize floating point horsepower with the lowest possible energy footprint. The initial silicon was a 16-core processor, implemented on the 65nm process node. This week, the company announced it has taped out a 64-core version of the design on the 28nm process node, delivering 100 gigaflops of performance at under 2 watts of power. 
The three-year old company is targeting the two extremes of the computing spectrum with their Epiphany architecture: supercomputing and mobile devices. The common denomination in both cases is an obsession to minimize power consumption, something the Adapteva designers have done extremely well.

According to Adapteva founder and CEO Andreas Olofsson, this latest silicon, officially known as Epiphany-IV (it’s the fourth generation of the architecture) runs at 800 MHz and is expected to achieve 70 single precision gigaflops/watt, twice the efficiency of their previous design. Their fab partner, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, is expected to start churning out samples of the 64-core wonder in January 2012.

As we reported in May, the RISC-based Epiphany design employs a 2D, low overhead, low latency mesh for inter-core communication, with each core containing 32KB of local memory for explicit cache control (in order to maximize data movement efficiency). Although the latest design implements 64 cores, Adapteva is projecting processors with as many as 4,096 cores per chip, delivering upwards of 4 teraflops.

While the company can’t claim a design win in either the HPC or mobile world, embedded device maker BittWare has picked up the Adapteva chip for one of its FPGA Mezzanine Cards (FMCs). That product pairs four Epiphany 16-core processors with an Altera Stratix FPGA. The sub-10 watt card delivers 128 gigaflops and is aimed at applications such as digital signal processing, defense, and communications. Although Olofsson is thrilled to get BittWare’s business, he thinks their are much larger opportunities to be had if he can find some other enterprising partners.

For example, he believes the new 64-core version, officially known as would be ideal for a tablet PC, smartphone, or an HPC board. In the latter case, Olofsson envisions an array of Epiphany chips on a board that can be plugged into an HPC server node (or a whole cluster), to offload floating-point intensive workloads. The chip array would be hooked together as an extension of the on-chip communication fabric that connects the individual cores. “You could easily fit a couple of teraflops on a board at a very reasonable power consumption,” Olofsson told HPCwire.

The CEO says his five-man company is profitable now, but they need a deep-pocketed partner or two to take to technology to the next level. In particular, Epiphany would benefit greatly from a more complete software stack — compilers, debuggers, libraries and so on — to attract developers. The current Epiphany SDK, which provides an ANSI C development environment, is fine for the development kits Adapteva is handing out, but they’ll eventually need a production toolset if they hope to become a major manycore vendor.

The competition is already rather formidable. Intel, with its Many Integrated Core (MIC) x86 processor for high performance computing, has vast resources to develop and support that architecture. MIC will inherit Intel’s parallel software portfolio, making it automatically attractive to an established audience of developers. Although not set to debut until late 2012 or early 2013, Intel’s manycore offering already has a chalked up a major win in TACC’s “Stampede” supercomputer.

The other established manycore vendor, Tilera, already has 64-core chips in the field. In this case though, the architecture is more oriented toward general-purpose processing, rather than a floating point acceleration, so is mainly being targeted to cloud computing, networking, and multimedia applications.

Although the new breed of GPGPUs from NVIDIA and AMD are also being used as floating point accelerators, Olofsson doesn’t equate those designs with Epiphany, which relies on a more conventional CPU-type of architecture. And while he thinks both CUDA and OpenCL are worthwhile execution models for parallel programming, Olofsson believes the data-parallel-centric GPU design has too many restrictions. “GPUs are the answer for graphics,” he says. “I dont think they are the answer for HPC.”
Adapteva, with its laser focus on floating point performance and with no allegiance to either the x86 instruction set or graphics support, is able to squeeze a lot more performance per watt out its design. For example, the 32-core MIC prototype, Knights Ferry, delivers 1200 gigaflops of peak single precision performance. Assuming a power draw of 200 watts (which is probably on the conservative side), that translates to a performance efficiency of 6 SP gigaflops/watt.

That’s a far cry from the 35 SP gigaflops/watt Adapteva has already demonstrated, and even if Intel doubles or quadruples its efficiency when it launches the production Knights Corner MIC, by that time Adapteva should already have its 70 gigaflops/watt chips in the field. Even the upcoming Kepler GPU from NVIDIA is expected to deliver only about 10 SP gigaflops/watt.

If Adapteva’s story of a proprietary floating point accelerator sounds like a remake of the ClearSpeed story, that’s not quite the case. Olofsson maintains they are only in the semiconductor design business, with has no aspirations to churn out production processors, boards, and systems, like ClearSpeed tried to do. According to him, the idea is to entice other chip and board makers to license the technology, the same way ARM Holdings does for its microprocessor IP.

Speaking of which: ARM processor and device vendors could be ideal companions for Adapteva, given ARM’s penetration into the mobile space. In fact, Olofsson admits there is a tier 1 semiconductor vendor who is evaluating the Epiphany technology right now, and it’s a fair bet that the company is already an ARM licensee. The idea would be to either integrated the Epiphany design on-chip next to ARM cores, or just pair Epiphany chips with ARM processors on a card.

Perhaps a more interesting scenario is for AMD to license Epiphany (or even acquire the company outright). Even though AMD  is using its GPGPU technology to target HPC and their mobile ambitions, Epiphany would give them a cutting-edge accelerator technology to go head-to-head with Intel’s MIC architecture. It would also enable AMD to develop some rather unique mobile processor silicon to pair with their low-power x86 CPU designs.

In the short-term, one of Olofsson’s dreams is to get someone to build an Epiphany-equipped computer that can run Linpack (presumably, with a double precision floating point implementation of Epiphany) to get a Green500 ranking. The current champ is an IBM Blue Gene/Q prototype machine, which is based on a PowerPC A2 SoC that delivers about 3.7 gigaflops/watt (which, by the way is about what ClearSpeed’s ASIC was delivering in 2008 before the company unraveled). With its 10-fold performance per watt advantage, Olofsson thinks an Epiphany-based system could easily capture the number one spot on the Green500 list.

Although Adapteva has taken a somewhat unconventional approach with its manycore chips, Olofsson says their design will scale much better than legacy CPU architectures, like the x86, and will be much more efficient at extracting floating point performance than generalized graphics processors. And even though he’s battling much larger and wealthier semiconductor vendors, Olofsson likes his chances. “Multicore and manycore is the future of computing,” he says, “and we feel like we’re right in the middle of it.”

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!

Mellanox Reacts to Activist Investor Pressures in Letter to Shareholders

March 16, 2018

Activist investor Starboard Value has been exerting pressure on Mellanox Technologies to increase its returns. In response, the high-performance networking company on Monday, March 12, published a letter to shareholders outlining its proposal for a May 2018 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders and highlighting its long-term growth strategy and focus on operating margin improvement. Read more…

By Staff

Quantum Computing vs. Our ‘Caveman Newtonian Brain’: Why Quantum Is So Hard

March 15, 2018

Quantum is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. Within 10 to 12 years, we’re told, special-purpose quantum systems will enter the commercial realm. Assuming this happens, we can also assume that quantum will, over extended time, become increasingly general purpose as it delivers mind-blowing power. Read more…

By Doug Black

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise IT in its willingness to outsource computational power. The m Read more…

By Chris Downing

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Achieve Optimal Performance at Scale with High Performance Fabrics for HPC

High Performance Computing (HPC) is unlocking a new era of speed and productivity to fuel business transformation. Rapid advancements in HPC capabilities are helping organizations operate faster and more effectively than ever, but in today’s fast-paced marketplace, a new generation of technologies is required to reach greater scalability and cost-efficiency. Read more…

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of resea Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hyperion Tackles Elusive Quantum Computing Landscape

March 13, 2018

Quantum computing - exciting and off-putting all at once - is a kaleidoscope of technology and market questions whose shapes and positions are far from settled. Read more…

By John Russell

Part Two: Navigating Life Sciences Choppy HPC Waters in 2018

March 8, 2018

2017 was not necessarily the best year to build a large HPC system for life sciences say Ari Berman, VP and GM of consulting services, and Aaron Gardner, direct Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SciNet Launches Niagara, Canada’s Fastest Supercomputer

March 5, 2018

SciNet and the University of Toronto today unveiled "Niagara," Canada's most-powerful supercomputer, comprising 1,500 dense Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 high-perfor Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Alibaba Cloud Launches ‘Bare Metal,’ HPC Instances in Europe

February 28, 2018

Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, is taking a run at AWS in the global public cloud computing market with new offerings aimed at the surging demand for Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

World Record: Quantum Computer with 46 Qubits Simulated

December 18, 2017

Scientists from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre have set a new world record. Together with researchers from Wuhan University and the University of Groningen, Read more…

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This