Fee PHI fo fum; Intel changes the smell of a Pentium

Subject: General Tech | September 5, 2012 - 12:49 PM |
Tagged: Xeon Phi, xeon, larrabee, knights corner, Intel, hot chips

The Register is back with more information from Hot Chips about Intel's Xeon Phi coprocessor, which seems to be much more than just a GPU in drag.  Inside the shell you will find at least 50 cores and at least 8GB of GDDR5 graphics, wwith the cores being very heavily modified 22-nanometer Tri-Gate process Pentium P54C chips clocked somewhere between 1.2-1.6GHz.  There is a brand new Vector Processing Unit which processes 512-bit SIMD instructions and sports an Extended Math Unit to handle calculations with hardware not software.  Read on for more details about the high-speed ring interconnects that allow these chips to communicate among themselves and with the Xeon server it will be a part of.

ElReg_intel_xeon_phi_block_diagram.jpg

"Intel has been showing off the performance of the "Knights Corner" x86-based coprocessor for so long that it's easy to forget that it is not yet a product you can actually buy. Back in June, Knights Corner was branded as the "Xeon Phi", making it clear that Phi was a Xeon coprocessor even if it does not bear a lot of resemblance to the Xeon processors at the heart of the vast majority of the world's servers."

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Source: The Register

A lot of little Phi coprocessors lightens the load

Subject: General Tech | August 31, 2012 - 11:43 AM |
Tagged: Intel, xeon, Xeon Phi, hot chips, larrabee

The Xeon Phi is not Larrabee but it does give a chance to remind people that Intel did at one time swear we would be seeing huge results from a lot of strung together Pentium chips.  Nor is Many Integrated Cores the same as AMD's Magny-cours, although you can be forgiven if that thought popped into your head.  Instead the Xeon Phi is a co-processor that will have 50 or more 512-bit SIMD architecture based processors, each with 512KB of Level 2 cache.  These cores are comparatively slow on their own but have been designed to spread tasks over dozens of cores for parallel processing to make up for the lack of individual power.  Intel sees Phi as a way to create HPC servers which will be physically smaller than one based solely on traditional Xeon based servers as well as being more efficient.  There is still a lot more we need to learn about these chips; until then you can check out The Inquirer's article on Intel's answer to NVIDIA and AMD's HPC cards.

Xeon_Phi_PCIe_Card.jpg

"CHIPMAKER Intel revealed some architectural details of its upcoming Xeon Phi accelerator at the Hotchips conference, saying that the chip will feature 512-bit SIMD units."

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Source: The Inquirer

Intel Introduces Xeon Phi: Larrabee Unleashed

Subject: Processors | June 19, 2012 - 08:46 AM |
Tagged: Xeon Phi, xeon e5, nvidia, larrabee, knights corner, Intel, HPC, gpgpu, amd

Intel does not respond well when asked about Larabee.  Though Intel has received a lot of bad press from the gaming community about what they were trying to do, that does not necessarily mean that Intel was wrong about how they set up the architecture.  The problem with Larrabee was that it was being considered as a consumer level product with an eye for breaking into the HPC/GPGPU market.  For the consumer level, Larrabee would have been a disaster.  Intel simply would not have been able to compete with AMD and NVIDIA for gamers’ hearts.
 
The problem with Larrabee and the consumer space was a matter of focus, process decisions, and die size.  Larrabee is unique in that it is almost fully programmable and features really only one fixed function unit.  In this case, that fixed function unit was all about texturing.    Everything else relied upon the large array of x86 processors and their attached vector units.  This turns out to be very inefficient when it comes to rendering games, which is the majority of work for the consumer market in graphics cards.  While no outlet was able to get a hold of a Larrabee sample and run benchmarks on it, the general feeling was that Intel would easily be a generation behind in performance.  When considering how large the die size would have to be to even get to that point, it was simply not economical for Intel to produce these cards.
 
phi_01.jpg
 
Xeon Phi is essentially an advanced part based on the original Larrabee architecture.
 
This is not to say that Larrabee does not have a place in the industry.  The actual design lends itself very nicely towards HPC applications.  With each chip hosting many x86 processors with powerful vector units attached, these products can provide tremendous performance in HPC applications which can leverage these particular units.  Because Intel utilized x86 processors instead of the more homogenous designs that AMD and NVIDIA use (lots of stream units doing vector and scalar, but no x86 units or a more traditional networking fabric to connect them).  This does give Intel a leg up on the competition when it comes to programming.  While GPGPU applications are working with products like OpenCL, C++ AMP, and NVIDIA’s CUDA, Intel is able to rely on many current programming languages which can utilize x86.  With the addition of wide vector units on each x86 core, it is relatively simple to make adjustments to utilize these new features as compared to porting something over to OpenCL.
 
So this leads us to the Intel Xeon Phi.  This is the first commercially available product based on an updated version of the Larrabee technology.  The exact code name is Knights Corner.  This is a new MIC (many integrated cores) product based on Intel’s latest 22 nm Tri-Gate process technology.  The details are scarce on how many cores this product actually contains, but it looks to be more than 50 of a very basic “Pentium” style core;  essentially low die space, in-order, and all connected by a robust networking fabric that allows fast data transfer between the memory interface, PCI-E interface, and the cores.
 
intelphi.jpg
 
Each Xeon Phi promises more than 1 TFLOP of performance (as measured by Linpack).  When combined with the new Xeon E5 series of processors, these products can provide a huge amount of computing power.  Furthermore, with the addition of the Cray interconnect technology that Intel acquired this year, clusters of these systems could provide for some of the fastest supercomputers on the market.  While it will take until the end of this year at least to integrate these products into a massive cluster, it will happen and Intel expects these products to be at the forefront of driving performance from the Petascale to the Exascale.
 
phi_02.jpg
 
These are the building blocks that Intel hopes to utilize to corner the HPC market.  Providing powerful CPUs and dozens if not hundreds of MIC units per cluster, the potential computer power should bring us to the Exascale that much sooner.
 
Time will of course tell if Intel will be successful with Xeon Phi and Knights Corner.  The idea behind this product seems sound, and the addition of powerful vector units being attached to simple x86 cores should make the software migration to massively parallel computing just a wee bit easier than what we are seeing now with GPU based products from AMD and NVIDIA.  The areas that those other manufacturers have advantages over Intel are that of many years of work with educational institutions (research), software developers (gaming, GPGPU, and HPC), and industry standards groups (Khronos).  Xeon Phi has a ways to go before being fully embraced by these other organizations, and its future is certainly not set in stone.  We have yet to see 3rd party groups get a hold of these products and put them to the test.  While Intel CPUs are certainly class leading, we still do not know of the full potential of these MIC products as compared to what is currently available in the market.
 

The one positive thing for Intel’s competitors is that it seems their enthusiasm for massively parallel computing is justified.  Intel just entered that ring with a unique architecture that will certainly help push high performance computing more towards true heterogeneous computing. 

Source: Intel

Intel Hopes For Exaflop Capable Supercomputers Within 10 Years

Subject: Systems | June 21, 2011 - 12:52 AM |
Tagged: supercomputing, mic, larrabee, knights corner, Intel

Silicon Graphics International and Intel recently announced plans to reach exascale levels of computational power within ten years. Exascale computing amounts to computers that are capable of delivering 1,000+ petaflops (One exaflop is 1000 petaflops) of computational horsepower to process quintillions of calculations. To put that in perspective, today’s supercomputers are just now breaking into the level of single-digit petaflop performance, with the fastest supercomputer delivering 8.16 petaflops. It is capable of this thanks to many thousands of eight core CPUs, whereas other top 500 supercomputers are starting to utilize a CPU and GPU combination in order to achieve petaflop performance.

The Aubrey Isle Silicon Inside Knights Corner

This partnering of Central Processing Unit (CPU) and GPU (or other accelerator) allows high performance supercomputers to achieve much higher performance than with CPUs alone. Intel CPUs power close to 80% of the top 500 Supercomputers; however, they have begun to realize that specialized accelerators are able to speed up highly parallel computing tasks. Specifically, Intel plans to combine Xeon processors with successors to their Knights Corner Many Integrated Core accelerator to reach exascale performance levels when combined with other data transfer and inter-core communication advancements. Knights Corner is an upcoming successor to the Knights Ferry and Larrabee processors.

Computer World quotes Eng Lim Goh, the CTO of SGI, in stating that “Accelerators such as graphics processors (GPUs) are currently being used with CPUs to execute more calculations per second. While some accelerators achieve desired results, many are not satisfied with the performance related to the time and cost spent porting applications to work with accelerators.”

Knights corner will be able to run x86 based software and features 50 cores based on a 22nm manufacturing process.  Each core will run four threads at 1.2 GHz, have 8 MB of cache, and will be supported by 512 bit vector processing units.  It’s predecessor, Knights Ferry is based on 32 45nm cores and eight contained in a Xeon server and are capable of 7.4 teraflops. Their MIC chip is aimed directly at NVIDIA’s CUDA and AMD’s OpenCL graphics processors, and is claimed to offer performance in addition to ease of use as they are capable of running traditional x86 based software.

It looks like the CPU-only supercomputers will be seeing more competition from GPU and MIC accelerated supercomputers, and will eventually be replaced at the exascale level. AMD and NVIDIA are betting heavily on their OpenCL and CUDA programmable graphics cards while Intel is going with a chip capable of running less specialized but widely used x86 programmable chips.  It remains to be seen which platform will be victorious; however, the increased competition should hasten the advancement of high performance computing power.  You can read more about Intel’s plan for Many Integrated Core accelerated supercomputing here.

Larrabee rides again, almost ... meet Knights Corner the new Many Integrated Core design

Subject: General Tech | June 20, 2011 - 09:11 AM |
Tagged: Intel, mic, larrabee, knights corner, 50 GPGPU

Knights Corner is not exactly Larrabee but the idea behind both are very similar.  A large number of GPGPUs are integrated with a CPU, Intel is using a Xeon core now as opposed to a Pentium; with the GPGPUs hooked up in a similar method to Larrabee's ring of Pentium cores.  The design is proven as they have sold units of the previous generation Kights Ferry and offers a feature that a lot of programmers are going to appreciate; instead of needing to learn a new language like CUDA or OpenCL, standard x86 scalar code is used to program these chips.  This architecture is also expected to scale very well, for as ARM recently pointed out only specific multithreaded applications continue to scale well as more cores are added.   Drop by The Inquirer for more information.

KnightsFerry.jpg

They will likely be sold as PCIe card like the Knights Ferry card pictured above.

"CHIPMAKER Intel has announced its second generation hybrid core technology codenamed 'Knights Corner'.

Knights Corner is Intel's second chip in its Many Integrated Core (MIC) chip line and will feature Xeon X86 cores and more than 50 GPGPU cores loosely based on what was previously known as Larrabee. Knights Corner will be fabricated using Intel's 22nm tri-gate process node beginning in 2012, though the firm would not be drawn on the exact core count at this time."

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Source: The Inquirer