The New Breed of Accelerators from NVIDIA, Intel and AMD Square Off

By Michael Feldman

December 6, 2012

With the recent introduction of Intel’s first Xeon Phi coprocessors, NVIDIA’s latest Kepler GPUs, and AMD’s new FirePro S10000 graphics cards, the competition for HPC chip componentry has entered a new phase. The three chipmakers have taken somewhat different paths, though, and it will be up to the market to decide which vendor’s approach will win the day.

It is tempting to think that there might be room for all three accelerator designs in the market, but as it stands today that’s unlikely. The HPC space is too small and homogeneous to support that much architectural diversity. Just consider how the CPU side has, for the most part, consolidated to a single ISA (the x86), and to a large degree, a single vendor (Intel). While there may be a case to be made that these accelerators can offer different advantages for different applications, in their current incarnation they all are built principally as vector accelerators for CPU hosts.

That implies that the chip design that does that best, that is, delivers the most application FLOPS per dollar and per watt, will be the HPC consumer’s top choice – unless you believe that one or the other of these platforms will be substantially easier to program than the others. We’ll get to that particular aspect in a moment.

First though, it’s worthwhile just looking at the specs for the three accelerators. All of them offer teraflop-plus double precision performance with several gigabytes of ECC memory, but not all with the same power draw. And it’s the performance-per-watt that is most likely to become the driving criteria for many HPC users as they try to squeeze maximum FLOPS from a static datacenter power supply.

The NVIDIA Tesla K20X is the one to beat in this regard. It offers 1.3 teraflops in a 235 watt package – so 5.6 gigaflops/watt. Intel’s new “Knights Corner” Xeon Phi, the 5110P, delivers 1.011 teraflops with a TDP of 225 watts, which works out to 4.5 gigaflops/watt. The AMD FirePro S10000 card that sports two “Tahiti” GPUs, is rated at 1.48 teraflops. But the FirePro draws 375 watts, so its 3.9 gigaflops/watt is actually the lowest of the bunch.

The FirePro does somewhat better in the single precision FP department, delivering 15.8 gigaflops/watt to the K20X’s 16.8 gigaflops/watt and the 5110P’s 9.0 gigaflops/watt (estimated). But if you’re really focused on single precision performance, the go-to device is the NVIDIA K10, which delivers over 20 gigaflops/watt.

Memory-wise, the Intel 5110P is tops with 8 GB and 320 GB/sec of bandwidth. The K20X is supplied with 6 GB and 250 GB/sec, so less capacity, but with roughly the same bandwidth per byte. The new FirePro is also equipped with 6 GB, but at 450 GB/sec, offers considerably more bandwidth. That’s all with ECC turned off, though, so your actual mileage will vary depending on the error correction smarts on each of these platforms.

It’s not surprising that NVIDIA’s silicon specs out so well here. They’ve been the dominant player in the accelerator business for the last several years and have spent a lot of time designing the devices for this role. But the hardware alone will not be the sole determinant. Porting applications to these accelerators and getting them to draw on those abundant FLOPS will be the biggest challenge.

It is here that Intel believes it has an advantage. The company’s line has been that existing programs, using just standard MPI and OpenMP as the framework for parallelism, will port to the Xeon Phi platform with a simple recompile and link. And while that’s true, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee good performance. In fact, it is more than likely that porting applications that lend themselves to vector acceleration on Xeon Phi will have to be modified in ways not so different than what is done for GPUs – namely splitting the code across the CPU and accelerator, such that performance is optimized across the serial and parallel parts of the application.

Until there are a number of well-known HPC applications running on the Xeon Phi, proof of easy porting with impressive performance are just claims. And in any case, OpenMP’s new accelerator directives are supposed to level the software playing field across all these platforms – at least with regard to a standard high-level software framework. As of today, though, that standard has not been ratified and it’s not clear if GPUs will be supported adequately on the initial go-around, which, given the current accelerator landscape, sort of defeats the purpose for a hardware-independent API.

This is just the beginning of the accelerator era of high performance computing, or perhaps more accurately, the end of the beginning. Especially with Intel’s entrance into the space, the accelerator model for high performance computing has been legitimized in a way that NVIDIA could not have done on its own. And while accelerators are not the be-all and end-all of HPC, right now they are driving much of the rapid performance gains we see in the industry.

That means the stakes are high for all three vendors. Whoever comes out on top is likely to establish itself as the dominant supercomputing chipmaker for the latter half of the petascale era and the first part of the exascale era, when the technology will almost certainly be integrated into the CPU die. With Intel, NVIDIA and AMD now focusing more interest in their accelerator lines, we’re apt to see an even more rapid evolution of the hardware and the software.

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!

Pfizer HPC Engineer Aims to Automate Software Stack Testing

January 17, 2019

Seeking to reign in the tediousness of manual software testing, Pfizer HPC Engineer Shahzeb Siddiqui is developing an open source software tool called buildtest, aimed at automating software stack testing by providing the community with a central repository of tests for common HPC apps and the ability to automate execution of testing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Senegal Prepares to Take Delivery of Atos Supercomputer

January 16, 2019

In just a few months time, Senegal will be operating the second largest HPC system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Mary Teuw Niane made the announcement on Monday (Jan. 14 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three big public cloud vendors has by turn touted the latest and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Resource Management in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

New challenges demand fresh approaches

Fueled by GPUs, big data, and rapid advances in software, the AI revolution is upon us. Read more…

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchmark or suite of benchmarking tools to compare the performanc Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchm Read more…

By John Russell

A Big Data Journey While Seeking to Catalog our Universe

January 16, 2019

It turns out, astronomers have lots of photos of the sky but seek knowledge about what the photos mean. Sound familiar? Big data problems are often characterize Read more…

By James Reinders

Intel Bets Big on 2-Track Quantum Strategy

January 15, 2019

Quantum computing has lived so long in the future it’s taken on a futuristic life of its own, with a Gartner-style hype cycle that includes triggers of innovation, inflated expectations and – though a useful quantum system is still years away – anticipatory troughs of disillusionment. Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft to Buy Mellanox?

December 20, 2018

Networking equipment powerhouse Mellanox could be an acquisition target by Microsoft, according to a published report in an Israeli financial publication. Microsoft has reportedly gone so far as to engage Goldman Sachs to handle negotiations with Mellanox. Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

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