GPGPUs Take Off

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2009-12-07 Print this article Print


Intel officials say Intel will continue to develop graphics technology, but have not been specific about plans.

Intel's decision gives AMD and Nvidia some running room as they compete against each other in the GPGPU space. Both companies have aggressively pushed their graphics technologies for general-purpose workloads, and the HPC field has been embracing the idea for its highly parallel computing workloads.

AMD officials have called AMD's ability to make both traditional CPU and GPGPU products a key differentiator in the competition with Intel and Nvidia, and have merged AMD's computing and graphics businesses in an initiative called Fusion.

Meanwhile, Nvidia in November at the SC event unveiled its upcoming line of new Tesla processors based on its "Fermi" architecture. The Tesla 20 series chips, which are scheduled for release in May 2010, will offer the performance of traditional CPUs at a fraction of the cost and power, according to officials.

The Fermi architecture will also feature more than 3 billion transistors and 512 CUDA cores. The core count is significantly higher in GPUs than in CPUs, where AMD and Intel are planning to move into the eight- and 12-core range in 2010.

In an interview in November, Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel's server platforms group marketing, said Intel is experimenting with tighter graphics integration with its Xeon server chips, but added that the current demand for GPGPUs in the HPC space is fairly narrow.

Davis also said organizations will find that once Intel's eight-core "Nehalem EX" Xeon CPU is released in early 2010, they will be able to do many of their parallel-computing workloads on that processor.

Spooner agreed that the sector of the HPC space that uses GPGPUs is not one that Intel has historically courted.

"It's not a market that a company like Intel is geared toward," he said. "Intel is more about taking a standard technology, like x86, and shipping millions upon millions of units. So it was attempting to use x86 to bump into graphics, but the development side of it proved to be a larger undertaking than maybe it first thought."

However, Brookwood said while that area of the HPC market may be an emerging one, GPGPUs are getting a lot of interest in the field.

"In HPC, it is the rage," he said.

A growing number of supercomputers that are making the Top500 list of the world's fastest systems are taking advantage of CPU-GPU co-processing. Brookwood pointed to the fifth-fastest computer, the Tianhe-1 at the National Supercomputer Center in China, which has 6,000 nodes that each hold an Intel Xeon processor and an ATI Radeon GPU. The computer peaks at 1.5 teraflops.

He also noted that officials with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the supercomputing center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign both have said their next supercomputers will be based as much on GPUs as CPUs.


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