Texas Instruments Makes HPC Play with New Multicore DSP Chips

By Michael Feldman

October 27, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to 4G telecommunications. When Texas Instruments (TI) added floating point smarts to its new digital signal processor (DSP) to support the fourth-generation wireless standard, it found itself with a commercial chip that had some of the most impressive flops/watt performance on the planet. And that got some of the folks at TI wondering if they could parlay that into the ethereal world of high performance computing.

Arnon Friedmann, TI’s Business Manager for Multicore DSP, and who now directs a budding HPC group at the company, says the effort to create a high performance computing presence with its latest DSP architecture is now underway, and there don’t appear to be any showstoppers. “There aren’t any doubts whether the device is capable of scaling to [HPC] products,” Friedmann told HPCwire. “It’s really just a matter of how well the applications can run on the device.”

According to Friedmann a “handful” of universities and commercial HPC customers have already expressed interest in the DSP technology and have been collaborating with engineers at TI to port their applications to the new DSP. “We’re also talking with a number of people who build HPC systems,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that you’re going to see anything immediately, but we’re getting quite a bit of interest.”

The DSP product line at the center of this effort is TI’s new TMS320C66x (aka C66x) series, a multicore chip they designed for 4G cellular base stations and radio network controllers. Launched in November 2010, the C66x is a 40nm chip that comes in single-core, dual-core, quad-core and eight-core variations. Its most distinguishing feature is the addition of floating point instructions, which were incorporated to support the more complex processing required for 4G wireless communications. The previous generation C64x series DSPs supported only fixed point math.

The C66x is implemented with TI’s new KeyStone architecture, which incorporates an eight-way VLIW architecture, a high-speed switch fabric called TeraNet, and a multicore navigator and DMA system that manages packet sending to other cores and peripherals. All the C66x products come with 512 KB of dedicated L2 cache per core, along with 32 KB of L1 cache for both instructions and data.

In its eight-core 1.25 GHz implementation, the C66x delivers 160 single precision (SP) gigaflops, while sucking up just 10 watts of power. That works out to an impressive 16 SP gigaflops/watt. Energy efficiency is a hallmark of DSPs, in general, since they typically populate systems (like the aforementioned cellular base station towers and radio network controllers), where power and cooling is in short supply.

The first HPC-friendly C66x-based device is a PCIe card, which sports four of the eight-core DSPs running at 1.0 GHz. Built by Advantech, a TI parter, the half-length PCIe card delivers 512 SP gigaflops at a modest 50 watts. On-board memory consists of 4 GB of 1333 MHz DDR3 RAM, with full ECC support. They’re also working on a full-length card, with eight DSPs, twice as much memory, and twice the performance.

Compared to the latest Tesla 20-series cards from NVIDIA, which delivers 1331 SP gigaflops at 225 watts, the Advantech hardware is the more impressive product, at least from a peak performance-per-watt perspective. The DSP-equipped card delivers 10 gigaflops/watt while the NVIDIA Tesla module puts out 6 gigaflops/watt. Those are for single precision flops. For double precision, the TI DSP delivers 3/8 of single precision performance, while the Tesla GPU delivers 1/2. In either case though, the TI DSP is the more energy efficient choice.

By the time the Kepler GPUs come out in 2012, and Intel’s first Many Integrated Core (MIC) coprocessor appears in 2013, those performance per watt numbers should be more competitive, but presumably TI can move its DSP performance up the ladder as well.

Like NVIDIA and Intel, Texas Instruments can leverage its volume position in a market much larger than HPC. In TI’s case, they expect to sell their C66x DSPs by the millions each year (as they did with the previous generation C64x line) in order to power the growing 4G wireless infrastructure. The company’s dominant position in that end of the market speaks well for the resources they could throw at this architecture.

The open question is how to do HPC-style software development on DSPs. The good news is that digital signal processors act more or less like a CPU. Unlike GPUs or FPGAs, the TI DSP doesn’t require a special programming language and doesn’t need a host processor to drive it. So the entire application can be run on the DSP, with nothing fancier than traditional C language tools, parallelized with OpenMP and/or MPI. TI offers all of this in its software development kit, including a C compiler, runtime, as well as the appropriate floating point math and parallel programming support. “We have a pretty good history of running complex systems on these DSPs,” says Friedmann.

The HPC group at TI they realize they will need to beef up their software tools to compete with the more mature parallel programming environments offered by Intel and NVIDIA. They’re even considering porting OpenCL to their DSP, but according to Friedmann, would like to see greater uptake in the community before they begin that effort. But their DSP compiler technology is mature, being based on a ten year-old VLIW architecture that has been refined over that period of time. The addition of floating point instructions entailed a relatively straightforward update to the base compiler, says Friedmann.

The new C66x DSPs are already being used in HPC-like workloads in a few specialized applications like semiconductor and LCD flat panel inspection systems. In the past, these set-ups employed hundreds of fixed-point DSPs, but with FP-capable parts now available, they can use fewer parts, and the applications are being updated accordingly. They are also seeing adoption in radar systems and medical imaging, which, again, can take advantage of the DSP’s new floating point prowess. In all of these cases, performance is a key element, since these applications rely on real time, compute-intensive processing.

Currently the company is in the process of running benchmarks against it new floating point processor to demonstrate the extent of its HPC potential. There may be certain types of algorithms that the DSP is particularly adept at. For example, running fast Fourier transforms (FFTs) on the C66x is about 8 to 10 times more efficient than using latest GPUs, according to Friedmann. Specific benchmark results will be forthcoming shortly.

The high performance computing effort at TI is still in its infancy as they learn how to navigate the HPC market and maneuver around established HPC players Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD. In the meantime, a team of 8 to 10 TI engineers has been keeping itself busy collecting applications from interested customers and helping to port and benchmark the codes. At SC11 next month, Friedmann will be demonstrating the DSP card and talking up the potential of the technology. “I do expect it’s going to get interesting in 2012,” says Friedmann.

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!

GDPR’s Impact on Scientific Research Uncertain

May 24, 2018

Amid the angst over preparations—or lack thereof—for new European Union data protections entering into force at week’s end is the equally worrisome issue of the rules’ impact on scientific research. Among the Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Francisco, one would be tempted to dismiss its claims of inventing Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Silicon Startup Raises ‘Prodigy’ for Hyperscale/AI Workloads

May 23, 2018

There's another silicon startup coming onto the HPC/hyperscale scene with some intriguing and bold claims. Silicon Valley-based Tachyum Inc., which has been emerging from stealth over the last year and a half, is unveili Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Silicon Startup Raises ‘Prodigy’ for Hyperscale/AI Workloads

May 23, 2018

There's another silicon startup coming onto the HPC/hyperscale scene with some intriguing and bold claims. Silicon Valley-based Tachyum Inc., which has been eme Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

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

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

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

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