Processor Whispers: about nails and heads
by Andreas Stiller
IBM is going to build Germany’s fastest supercomputer – no, not with Power7, but with Intel’s Sandy Bridge-EP. The desktop and mobile versions of this new generation of processors are already being delivered in volume and should make their official appearance at the beginning of next year.
The supercomputer “SuperMUC”, with a gigantic computing power of 3 Pflops, has been commissioned from IBM for €83 million by the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum (LRZ), the Leibniz Computer Centre in Garching, near Munich. The LRZ press office tried to illustrate the computing power of the new supercomputer by saying: “If you hammered nails into the earth at this speed, spaced at intervals of 1 mm, you would circle the equator 75,000 times in a single second.” Okay, so it’s NOPS (nailing operations per second) instead of flops, however, the guys at the LRZ forgot to take into account that at this performance – even using small 30 mm nails – you would be nailing ten times the annual global production of raw iron into the earth per second. Granted, it's not easy to make such huge numbers comprehensible. In any case, with its theoretical maximum performance, at the moment the SuperMUC would be the world’s fastest all-purpose computer, although its completion is still a little over a year away – and then things will probably be different.
Source: NASA From the scarce specifications available for the commissioned computer, we can deduce that it will be equipped with 8-core Sandy Bridge-EP Xeons that will then be state of the art. Presumably, just the compute part will require 84 IBM iDataPlex racks, each one with 84 nodes and each node equipped with two 8-core processors – which adds up to 14,112 Xeon processors with 112,896 cores. At 3.3 GHz, thanks to AVX, this would deliver the claimed performance. The LRZ computer centre is adding a second 'cube' building to the existing one, to house the new racks. In addition to the compute nodes, more racks will be needed for the 10 PB of storage. For some years, inside the old cube, about 150 SGI Altix 4700 racks equipped with Montecito Itaniums have been working hard to deliver a mere 62 Tflops. While the waste heat from their 3 MW of power consumption (including cooling) is just vented, the SuperMUC is destined to be the first computer of this size to feature high temperature cooling and heat coupling; it will heat the LRZ and other institutes.
IBM is already testing this high temperature cooling technology with Aquasar, the smaller blade cluster at ETH Zurich. Water with a supply temperature of 45°C enters the system and is heated to 60°C by the computer nodes, at which temperature the thermal conductivity is about 10 per cent higher than at 15°C. IBM hasn’t mentioned how hot it gets in the service room, but the operators might want to bring bathing trunks to be on the safe side. According to IBM, all in all, the high temperature cooling is about 40 per cent more efficient than common air cooling. You only have to make sure that the chips don’t get hotter than 85°C inside.
Professor Arndt Bode and his Munich colleagues are unwilling to join in on the hype around GPU acceleration and will make do without the NVIDIA M2050-Tesla cards offered especially for iDataPlex systems – maybe they are not compatible with high temperature cooling.
While the Sandy Bridge-EP Xeons – which, judging by the timing of their launch, will arrive in the new LGA2011 housings – are slated for the third or fourth quarter of 2011, according to Intel boss Paul Otellini, the delivery of the desktop and mobile versions is in full swing. Otellini made this statement at the Barclays Capital Global Technology Conference, where he celebrated 2010 as the best year for Intel “ever” with $2 of profit per share. The launch of the new processors will probably take place at CES at the beginning of January, at least for the Core i7 and i5 class. And it’s about time, because the Sandy Bridge successor Ivy Bridge, manufactured using the 22-nm process as Otellini proudly announced, is already getting itchy feet; the first prototypes are “up and running”.
No AVX for XP and Vista
Sandy Bridge is supposed to shake up the markets with the fastest volume increase in Intel’s history, thanks to its integrated graphics – which Intel now officially calls processor graphics. This is at first targeted primarily at notebooks and office PCs; however, many companies will first have to upgrade to Windows 7 SP1, at least, if they wish to take advantage of AVX. Those sticking with XP or Vista will be left out in the cold. However, Service Pack 1, required for AVX support, is currently still only available as a release candidate, with the RTM slated for 2011. Linux is a step ahead here – the kernel has been AVX-ready since version 2.6.30.
Something Else: Copper Peak
During past presentations of the upcoming PC interface called “Light Peak” Intel had been very proud that the affordable technology for everyone will manage 10 Gbit/s via an optical cable. Supposedly, Apple intends to install Light Peak into notebooks in 2011. According to a patent draft, a MagSafe charging plug with additional optical fibers could link with docking stations.
But now, rumour has it that the first Light Peak generation will remain dark, because instead of optical fibers common copper wires will be used – Copper Peak, so to speak. Intel didn’t want to comment on this rumour nor on the patent conflict between Avago Technologies and IPtronics, Intel’s partners for Light Peak.
The GPUs in Intel’s upcoming desktop processors hardly likely to threaten the market of the fast DirectX 11 graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD, especially since only the most expensive, overclockable “K” versions of Sandy Bridge will be blessed with 12 shader units. All the rest will only have six. The mobile processor GPUs are more powerful and will all have 12 cores – enough for Apple, as was unofficially reported: in the future, Intel graphics are supposed to replace NVIDIA chips in many MacBooks.
At the above-mentioned Barclays event, Otellini also announced a new campaign for the tablet PC sector, in which Intel plans to gain ground with Windows 7, Android and MeeGo during 2011. He barely mentioned the topic of smartphones, maybe because of last year’s shipwreck when partner LG jumped ship. The Moorestown (Atom Z600 / Lincroft) can’t beat ARM on this terrain, but its successor, Medfield, is supposed to help out: 32-nm SoC with a new core architecture called Saltwell. Otellini promised products from three as yet unnamed partners for the second half of 2011. Nonetheless, in the smartphone sector, he is preparing for a long march: “a marathon, not a sprint.”