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!

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource managed by the institution’s Advanced Center for Computing and C Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. 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 HPE to provide the DoD High Performance Computing Modernizatio Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Experience Memory & Storage Solutions that will Transform Your Data Performance

High performance computing (HPC) has revolutionized the way we harness insight, leading to a dramatic increase in both the size and complexity of HPC systems. Read more…

Topological Quantum Superconductor Progress Reported

February 20, 2018

Overcoming sensitivity to decoherence is a persistent stumbling block in efforts to build effective quantum computers. Now, a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) report progress in devisi Read more…

By John Russell

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource manage Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. 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

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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