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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 15, 2011 at 3:48 PM

Wow: Intel unveils 1 teraflop chip with 50-plus cores

I thought the prospect of quad-core tablet computers was exciting.

Then I saw Intel’s latest — a 1 teraflop chip, with more than 50 cores, that Intel unveiled today, running it on a test machine at the SC11 supercomputing conference in Seattle.

That means my kids may take a teraflop laptop to college — if their grades don’t suffer too much having access to 50-core video game consoles.

It wasn’t that long ago that Intel was boasting about the first supercomputer with sustained 1 teraflop performance. That was in 1997, on a system with 9,298 Pentium II chips that filled 72 computing cabinets.

Now Intel has squeezed that much performance onto a matchbook-sized chip, dubbed “Knights Corner,” based on its new “Many Integrated Core” architecture, or MIC. (Earlier I referred to it as “Knights Ferry,” which is its development kit.)

It was designed largely in the Portland area and has just started manufacturing.

“In 15 years that’s what we’ve been able to do. That is stupendous. You’re witnessing the 1 teraflop barrier busting,” Rajeeb Hazra, general manager of Intel’s technical computing group, said at an unveiling ceremony. (He holds up the chip here)

A single teraflop is capable of a trillion floating point operations per second.


On hand for the event — in the cellar of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Seattle — were the directors of the National Center for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge Laboratory and the Application Acceleration Center of Excellence.

Also speaking was the chief science officer of the GENCI supercomputing organization in France, which has used its Intel-based system for molecular simulations of Alzheimer’s, looking at issues such as plaque formation that’s a hallmark of the disease.

“The hardware is hardly exciting. … The exciting part is doing the science,” said Jeff Nichols, acting director of the computational center at Oak Ridge.


The hardware was pretty cool, though.

George Chrysos, the chief architect of Knights Corner, came up from the Portland area with a test system running the new chip, which was connected to a speed meter on a laptop to show that it was running around 1 teraflop.

Intel had the test system set up behind closed doors — on a coffee table in a hotel suite at the Grand Hyatt, and wouldn’t allow reporters to take pictures of the setup.

Nor would the company specify how many cores the chip has — just more than 50 — or its power requirement.

If you’re building a new system and want to future-proof it, the Knights Corner chip uses a double PCI Express slot. Chrysos said the systems are also likely to run alongside a few Xeon processors.

This means that Intel could be producing teraflop chips for personal computers within a few years, although there’s lots of work to be done on the software side before you’d want one.

Another question is whether you’d want a processor that powerful on a laptop, for instance, where you may prefer to have a system optimized for longer battery life, Hazra said.

More important, Knights Corner chips may help engineers build the next generation of supercomputing systems, which Intel and its partners hope to delivery by 2018.

Power efficiency was a highlight of another big announcement this week at SC11. On Monday night, IBM announced its “next generation supercomputing project,” the Blue Gene/Q system that’s heading to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory next year.

Dubbed Sequoia, the system should run at 20 petaflops peak performance. IBM expects it to be the world’s most power-efficient computer, processing 2 gigaflops per watt.

The first 96 racks of the system could be delivered in December. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration uses the systems to work on nuclear weapons, energy reseach and climate change, among other things.

Sequoia complements another Blue Gene/Q system, a 10-petaflop setup called “Mira,” which was previously announced by Argonne National Laboratory.

Here’s a video interview with Hazra that was posted by EE Times:

A few images from the conference, which runs through Friday at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, starting with perusal of Intel boards:


Take home a Cray today!


IBM was sporting Blue Genes, and it wasn’t even casual Friday:


A 94 teraflop rack:


Comments | Topics: Cray, IBM, intel


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