Is the ECC Performance Price Worth it for GPUs?

By Nicole Hemsoth

March 13, 2014

Listen to the podcast followup on this story.

One of several elements that separates high performance computing GPUs from their gaming and graphics brethren is the addition of ECC codes, which target critical bit-flip errors in memory, which can lead to invalid results or system problems.

While ECC is often deemed a necessary component for confirming the viability of simulation results, it does come with a performance price. According to a team of researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory, enabling ECC cuts the size of the system available by 10% because of the amount of memory consumed by the error correction codes. They note that additionally, turning ECC on “reduces simulation speed, resulting in greater opportunity for other sources of error such as disk failures in large file systems, power glitches, and unexplained node failures during the timeframe of the calculation.”

With this performance and greater potential for failure in mind, the question turns to whether ECC is preventing enough critical flaws to justify its price. In other words, are these errors so common that ECC is necessary? As one might imagine, this is a difficult question to tackle since the compute time with multiple hardware, application, GPU and other issues are all involved. However, the team took the question of ECC usefulness across large XSEDE systems, including Keeneland at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a smaller production cluster at Los Alamos, and on Dante at SDSC, which is equipped with GPUs of the gaming variety (so without any ECC).

ECC1As seen in the graph, the performance penalty on Keeneland, which was the largest system used in the test GPU/node count-wise, is certainly observable. Similar results in terms of performance hits were observed on the other systems as well. But most interestingly, when it came to actually seeing how useful the ECC was overall for all of the systems, it turned out that there were very few errors—and in fact, the most significant errors or problems with the results when compared across the different systems were based on the hardware itself, faulty motherboards or other variables…not the types the errors ECC is designed to address—at least for the AMBER molecular dynamics code that was used as the basis for the cross-system testing. There is far more detail about the nature of this MD code and why it was particularly relevant for this sort of testing in the full paper.

As the researchers summarize, “Although the ability of ECC to detect and correct single bit errors is undeniably useful in theory, the practical application of this technology may not be in the interests of the MD community.” They point to the rarity of ECC correctable errors and note that they do “not outweigh the costs in terms of system size and calculation speed,” noting that “the errors appear to be so rare in production GPU calculations that their rate of incidence could not be quantified in this experiment.”

Finally, they surmise that overall, “the fact that other sources of hardware error were observed during the experiment, regardless of ECC status, indicates that there are much more probable ways for simulations to fail and that such failures most likely cause the simulation to crash rather than to produce bad data.”

Again, there is a great deal more information in the full piece, but this sparks new life in the debate over whether or not ECC is all it’s cracked up to be for some scientific applications. Does this mean a new life for low-brow gaming graphics cards in large-scale scientific computing sites? Probably not—but an interesting read nonetheless.

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!

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from the nanoscale to the astronomic, from calculating quantum effe Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

What Will IBM’s AI Debater Learn from Its Loss?

February 14, 2019

The utility of IBM’s latest man-versus-machine gambit is debatable. At the very least its Project Debater got us thinking about the potential uses of artificial intelligence as a way of helping humans sift through al Read more…

By George Leopold

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings. According to Dutch news site Drimb 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

Medical Research Powered by Data

“We’re all the same, but we’re unique as well. In that uniqueness lies all of the answers….”

  • Mark Tykocinski, MD, Provost, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Thomas Jefferson University

Getting the answers to what causes some people to develop diseases and not others is driving the groundbreaking medical research being conducted by the Computational Medicine Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Read more…

South African Weather Service Doubles Compute and Triples Storage Capacity of Cray System

February 13, 2019

South Africa has made headlines in recent years for its commitment to HPC leadership in Africa – and now, Cray has announced another major South African HPC expansion. Cray has been awarded contracts with Eclipse Holdings Ltd. to upgrade the supercomputing system operated by the South African Weather Service (SAWS). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from th Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

UC Berkeley Paper Heralds Rise of Serverless Computing in the Cloud – Do You Agree?

February 13, 2019

Almost exactly ten years to the day from publishing of their widely-read, seminal paper on cloud computing, UC Berkeley researchers have issued another ambitious examination of cloud computing - Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing. The new work heralds the rise of ‘serverless computing’ as the next dominant phase of cloud computing. Read more…

By John Russell

Iowa ‘Grows Its Own’ to Fill the HPC Workforce Pipeline

February 13, 2019

The global workforce that supports advanced computing, scientific software and high-speed research networks is relatively small when you stop to consider the magnitude of the transformative discoveries it empowers. Technical conferences provide a forum where specialists convene to learn about the latest innovations and schedule face-time with colleagues from other institutions. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Trump Signs Executive Order Launching U.S. AI Initiative

February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) today launching a U.S Artificial Intelligence Initiative. The new initiative - Maintaining American L Read more…

By John Russell

Celebrating Women in Science: Meet Four Women Leading the Way in HPC

February 11, 2019

One only needs to look around at virtually any CS/tech conference to realize that women are underrepresented, and that holds true of HPC. SC hosts over 13,000 H Read more…

By AJ Lauer

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

Assessing Government Shutdown’s Impact on HPC

February 6, 2019

After a 35-day federal government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, government agencies are taking stock of the damage -- and girding for a potential secon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

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

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro 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

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

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