NVIDIA Tegra SoC powers new Nintendo Switch gaming system

Subject: Processors, Mobile | October 20, 2016 - 11:40 AM |
Tagged: Nintendo, switch, nvidia, tegra

It's been a hell of a 24 hours for NVIDIA and the Tegra processor. A platform that many considered dead in the water after the failure of it to find its way into smartphones or into an appreciable amount of consumer tablets, had two major design wins revealed. First, it was revealed that NVIDIA is powered the new fully autonomous driving system in the Autopilot 2.0 hardware implementation in Tesla's current Model S, X and upcoming Model 3 cars.

Now, we know that Nintendo's long rumored portable and dockable gaming system called Switch is also powered by a custom NVIDIA Tegra SoC.


We don't know much about the hardware that gives the Switch life, but NVIDIA did post a short blog with some basic information worth looking at. Based on it, we know that the Tegra processor powering this Nintendo system is completely custom and likely uses Pascal architecture GPU CUDA cores; though we don't know how many and how powerful it will be. It will likely exceed the performance of the Nintendo Wii U, which was only 0.35 TFLOPS and consisting of 320 AMD-based stream processors. How much faster we just don't know yet.

On the CPU side we assume that this is built using an ARM-based processor, most likely off-the-shelf core designs to keep things simple. Basing it on custom designs like Denver might not be necessary for this type of platform. 

Nintendo has traditionally used custom operating systems for its consoles and that seems to be what is happening with the Switch as well. NVIDIA mentions a couple of times how much work the technology vendor put into custom APIs, custom physic engines, new libraries, etc. 

The Nintendo Switch’s gaming experience is also supported by fully custom software, including a revamped physics engine, new libraries, advanced game tools and libraries. NVIDIA additionally created new gaming APIs to fully harness this performance. The newest API, NVN, was built specifically to bring lightweight, fast gaming to the masses.

We’ve optimized the full suite of hardware and software for gaming and mobile use cases. This includes custom operating system integration with the GPU to increase both performance and efficiency.

The system itself looks pretty damn interesting, with the ability to switch (get it?) between a docked to your TV configuration to a mobile one with attached or wireless controllers. Check out the video below for a preview.

I've asked both NVIDIA and Nintendo for more information on the hardware side but these guys tend to be tight lipped on the custom silicon going into console hardware. Hopefully one or the other is excited to tell us about the technology so we can some interesting specifications to discuss and debate!

UPDATE: A story on The Verge claims that Nintendo "took the chip from the Shield" and put it in the Switch. This is more than likely completely false; the Shield is a significantly dated product and that kind of statement could undersell the power and capability of the Switch and NVIDIA's custom SoC quite dramatically.

Source: Nintendo

Qualcomm Announces Snapdragon 653, 626, and 427 SoCs

Subject: Processors, Mobile | October 18, 2016 - 11:32 AM |
Tagged: SoC, Snapdragon 653, Snapdragon 626, Snapdragon 427, snapdragon, smartphone, qualcomm, mobile

Qualcomm has announced new 400 and 600-series Snapdragon parts, and these new SoCs (Snapdragon 653, 626, and 427) inherit technology found previously on the 800-series parts, including fast LTE connectivity and dual-camera support.


The integrated LTE modem has been significantly for each of these SoCs, and Qualcomm lists these features for each of the new products:

  • X9 LTE with CAT 7 modem (300Mbps DL; 150Mbps UL) designed to provide users with a 50 percent increase in maximum uplink speeds over the X8 LTE modem.
  • LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation with up to 2x20 MHz in the downlink and uplink
  • Support for 64-QAM in the uplink
  • Superior call clarity and higher call reliability with the Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) codec on VoLTE calls.

In addition to the new X9 modem, all three SoCs offer faster CPU and GPU performance, with the Snapdragon 653 (which replaces the 652) now supporting up to 8GB of memory - up from a max of 4GB previously. Each of the new SoCs also feature Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 for fast charging.


Full specifications for these new products can be found on the updated Snapdragon product page.

Availability of the new 600-series Snapdragon processors is set for the end of this year, so we could start seeing handsets with the faster parts soon; while the Snapdragon 427 is expected to ship in devices early in 2017.

Source: Qualcomm

Intel Launches Stratix 10 FPGA With ARM CPU and HBM2

Subject: Processors | October 10, 2016 - 02:25 AM |
Tagged: SoC, Intel, FPGA, Cortex A53, arm, Altera

 Intel and recently acquired Altera have launched a new FPGA product based on Intel’s 14nm Tri-Gate process featuring an ARM CPU, 5.5 million logic element FPGA, and HBM2 memory in a single package. The Stratix 10 is aimed at data center, networking, and radar/imaging customers.

The Stratix 10 is an Altera-designed FPGA (field programmable gate array) with 5.5 million logic elements and a new HyperFlex architecture that optimizes registers, pipeline, and critical pathing (feed-forward designs) to increase core performance and increase the logic density by five times that of previous products. Further, the upcoming FPGA SoC reportedly can run at twice the core performance of Stratix V or use up to 70% less power than its predecessor at the same performance level.

Intel Altera Stratix 10.jpg

The increases in logic density, clockspeed, and power efficiency are a combination of the improved architecture and Intel’s 14nm FinFET (Tri-Gate) manufacturing process.

Intel rates the FPGA at 10 TFLOPS of single precision floating point DSP performance and 80 GFLOPS/watt.

Interestingly, Intel is using an ARM processor to feed data to the FPGA chip rather than its own Quark or Atom processors. Specifically, the Stratix 10 uses an ARM CPU with four Cortex A53 cores as well as four stacks of on package HBM2 memory with 1TB/s of bandwidth to feed data to the FPGA. There is also a “secure device manager” to ensure data integrity and security.

The Stratix 10 is aimed at data centers and will be used with in specialized tasks that demand high throughput and low latency. According to Intel, the processor is a good candidate for co-processors to offload and accelerate encryption/decryption, compression/de-compression, or Hadoop tasks. It can also be used to power specialized storage controllers and networking equipment.

Intel has started sampling the new chip to potential customers.

Intel Altera Stratix 10 FPGA SoC.png

In general, FPGAs are great at highly parallelized workloads and are able to efficiently take huge amounts of inputs and process the data in parallel through custom programmed logic gates. An FPGA is essentially a program in hardware that can be rewired in the field (though depending on the chip it is not necessarily a “fast” process and it can take hours or longer to switch things up heh). These processors are used in medical and imaging devices, high frequency trading hardware, networking equipment, signal intelligence (cell towers, radar, guidance, ect), bitcoin mining (though ASICs stole the show a few years ago), and even password cracking. They can be almost anything you want which gives them an advantage over traditional CPUs and graphics cards though cost and increased coding complexity are prohibitive.

The Stratix 10 stood out as interesting to me because of its claimed 10 TFLOPS of single precision performance which is reportedly the important metric when it comes to training neural networks. In fact, Microsoft recently began deploying FPGAs across its Azure cloud computing platform and plans to build the “world’s fastest AI supercomputer. The Redmond-based company’s Project Catapult saw the company deploy Stratix V FPGAs to nearly all of its Azure datacenters and is using the programmable silicon as part of an “acceleration fabric” in its “configurable cloud” architecture that will be used initially to accelerate the company’s Bing search and AI research efforts and later by independent customers for their own applications.

It is interesting to see Microsoft going with FPGAs especially as efforts to use GPUs for GPGPU and neural network training and inferencing duties have increased so dramatically over the years (with NVIDIA being the one pushing the latter). It may well be a good call on Microsoft’s part as it could enable better performance and researchers would be able to code their AI accelerator platforms down to the gate level to really optimize things. Using higher level languages and cheaper hardware with GPUs does have a lower barrier to entry though. I suppose ti will depend on just how much Microsoft is going to charge customers to use the FPGA-powered instances.

FPGAs are in kind of a weird middle ground and while they are definitely not a new technology, they do continue to get more complex and powerful!

What are your thoughts on Intel's new FPGA SoC?

Also read:

Source: Intel

NVIDIA Teases Low Power, High Performance Xavier SoC That Will Power Future Autonomous Vehicles

Subject: Processors | October 1, 2016 - 06:11 PM |
Tagged: xavier, Volta, tegra, SoC, nvidia, machine learning, gpu, drive px 2, deep neural network, deep learning

Earlier this week at its first GTC Europe event in Amsterdam, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang teased a new SoC code-named Xavier that will be used in self-driving cars and feature the company's newest custom ARM CPU cores and Volta GPU. The new chip will begin sampling at the end of 2017 with product releases using the future Tegra (if they keep that name) processor as soon as 2018.


NVIDIA's Xavier is promised to be the successor to the company's Drive PX 2 system which uses two Tegra X2 SoCs and two discrete Pascal MXM GPUs on a single water cooled platform. These claims are even more impressive when considering that NVIDIA is not only promising to replace the four processors but it will reportedly do that at 20W – less than a tenth of the TDP!

The company has not revealed all the nitty-gritty details, but they did tease out a few bits of information. The new processor will feature 7 billion transistors and will be based on a refined 16nm FinFET process while consuming a mere 20W. It can process two 8k HDR video streams and can hit 20 TOPS (NVIDIA's own rating for deep learning int(8) operations).

Specifically, NVIDIA claims that the Xavier SoC will use eight custom ARMv8 (64-bit) CPU cores (it is unclear whether these cores will be a refined Denver architecture or something else) and a GPU based on its upcoming Volta architecture with 512 CUDA cores. Also, in an interesting twist, NVIDIA is including a "Computer Vision Accelerator" on the SoC as well though the company did not go into many details. This bit of silicon may explain how the ~300mm2 die with 7 billion transistors is able to match the 7.2 billion transistor Pascal-based Telsa P4 (2560 CUDA cores) graphics card at deep learning (tera-operations per second) tasks. Of course in addition to the incremental improvements by moving to Volta and a new ARMv8 CPU architectures on a refined 16nm FF+ process.

  Drive PX Drive PX 2 NVIDIA Xavier Tesla P4
CPU 2 x Tegra X1 (8 x A57 total) 2 x Tegra X2 (8 x A57 + 4 x Denver total) 1 x Xavier SoC (8 x Custom ARM + 1 x CVA) N/A
GPU 2 x Tegra X1 (Maxwell) (512 CUDA cores total 2 x Tegra X2 GPUs + 2 x Pascal GPUs 1 x Xavier SoC GPU (Volta) (512 CUDA Cores) 2560 CUDA Cores (Pascal)
TDP ~30W (2 x 15W) 250W 20W up to 75W
Process Tech 20nm 16nm FinFET 16nm FinFET+ 16nm FinFET
Transistors ? ? 7 billion 7.2 billion

For comparison, the currently available Tesla P4 based on its Pascal architecture has a TDP of up to 75W and is rated at 22 TOPs. This would suggest that Volta is a much more efficient architecture (at least for deep learning and half precision)! I am not sure how NVIDIA is able to match its GP104 with only 512 Volta CUDA cores though their definition of a "core" could have changed and/or the CVA processor may be responsible for closing that gap. Unfortunately, NVIDIA did not disclose what it rates the Xavier at in TFLOPS so it is difficult to compare and it may not match GP104 at higher precision workloads. It could be wholly optimized for int(8) operations rather than floating point performance. Beyond that I will let Scott dive into those particulars once we have more information!

Xavier is more of a teaser than anything and the chip could very well change dramatically and/or not hit the claimed performance targets. Still, it sounds promising and it is always nice to speculate over road maps. It is an intriguing chip and I am ready for more details, especially on the Volta GPU and just what exactly that Computer Vision Accelerator is (and will it be easy to program for?). I am a big fan of the "self-driving car" and I hope that it succeeds. It certainly looks to continue as Tesla, VW, BMW, and other automakers continue to push the envelope of what is possible and plan future cars that will include smart driving assists and even cars that can drive themselves. The more local computing power we can throw at automobiles the better and while massive datacenters can be used to train the neural networks, local hardware to run and make decisions are necessary (you don't want internet latency contributing to the decision of whether to brake or not!).

I hope that NVIDIA's self-proclaimed "AI Supercomputer" turns out to be at least close to the performance they claim! Stay tuned for more information as it gets closer to launch (hopefully more details will emerge at GTC 2017 in the US).

What are your thoughts on Xavier and the whole self-driving car future?

Also read:

Source: NVIDIA

AMD A12-9800 Overclocked to 4.8 GHz

Subject: Processors | September 27, 2016 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: overclock, Bristol Ridge, amd

Update 9/27 @ 5:10pm: Added a link to Anandtech's discussion of Bristol Ridge. It was mentioned in the post, but I forgot to add the link itself when I transfered it to the site. The text is the same, though.

While Zen is nearing release, AMD has launched the AM4 platform with updated APUs. They will be based on an updated Excavator architecture, which we discussed during the Carrizo launch in mid-2015. Carrizo came about when AMD decided to focus heavily on the 15W and 35W power targets, giving the best possible experience for that huge market of laptops, in the tasks that those devices usually encounter, such as light gaming and media consumption.


Image Credit: NAMEGT via HWBot

Bristol Ridge, instead, focuses on the 35W and 65W thermal points. This will be targeted more at OEMs who want to release higher-performance products in the holiday time-frame, although consumers can purchase it directly, according to Anandtech, later in the year. I'm guessing it won't be pushed too heavily to DIY users, though, because they know that those users know Zen is coming.

It turns out that overclockers already have their hands on it, though, and it seems to take a fairly high frequency. NAMEGT, from South Korea, uploaded a CPU-Z screenshot to HWBot that shows the 28nm, quad-core part clocked at 4.8 GHz. The included images claim that this was achieved on air, using AMD's new stock “Wraith” cooler.

Source: HWBot

AMD's Upcoming Socket AM4 Pictured with 1331 Pins

Subject: Processors | September 19, 2016 - 10:35 AM |
Tagged: Socket AM4, processor, FX, cpu, APU, amd, 1331 pins

A report from Hungarian site HWSW (cited by Bit-Tech) has a close-up photo of the new AMD AM4 processor socket, and it looks like this will have 1331 pins (go ahead and count them, if you dare!).


Image credit: Bit-Tech via HWSW

AMD's newest socket will merge the APU and FX series CPUs into this new AM4 socket, unlike the previous generation which split the two between AM3+ and FM2+. This is great news for system builders, who now have the option of starting with an inexpensive CPU/APU, and upgrading to a more powerful FX processor later on - with the same motherboard.

The new socket will apparently require a new cooler design, which is contrary to early reports (yes, we got it wrong, too) that the AM4 socket would be compatible with existing AM3 cooler mounts (manufacturers could of course offer hardware kits for existing cooler designs). In any case, AMD's new socket takes more of the delicate copper pins you love to try not to bend!

Source: Bit-Tech

GlobalFoundries to Continue FD-SOI Tech, Adds 12nm “12FDX” Node To Roadmap

Subject: Processors | September 13, 2016 - 06:51 PM |
Tagged: GLOBALFOUNDRIES, FD-SOI, 12FDX, process technology

In addition to the company’s efforts to get its own next generation FinFET process technology up and running, GlobalFoundries announced that will continue to pursue FD-SOI process technology with the addition of a 12nm FD-SOI (FDX in GlobalFoundries parlance) node to its roadmap with a slated release of 2019 at the earliest.


FD-SOI stands for Fully Depleted Silicon On Insulator and is a planar process technology that uses a thin insulator on top of the base silicon which is then covered by a very thin layer of silicon that is used as the transistor channel. The promise of FD-SOI is that it offers the performance of a FinFET node with lower power consumption and cost than other bulk processes. While the substrate is more expensive with FD-SOI, it uses 50% of the lithography layers and companies can take advantage of reportedly easy-to-implement body biasing to design a single chip that can fulfill multiple products and roles. For example, in the case of 22FDX – which should start rolling out towards the end of this year – GlobalFoundries claims that it offers the performance of 14 FinFET at the 28nm bulk pricing. 22FDX is actually a 14nm front end (FEOL) and 28nm back end of line (BEOL) combined. Notably, it purportedly uses 70% lower power than 28nm HKMG.

22FDX Body Biasing.jpg

A GloFo 22nm FD-SOI "22FDX" transistor.

The FD-SOI design offers lower static leakage and allows chip makers to use body biasing (where substrate is polarized) to balance performance and leakage. Forward Body Biasing allows the transistor to switch faster and/or operate at much lower voltages. On the other hand, Reverse Body Biasing further reduces leakage and frequency to improves energy efficiency. Dynamic Body Biasing (video link) allows for things like turbo modes whereby increasing voltage to the back gate can increase transistor switching speed or reducing voltage can reduce switching speeds and leakage. For a process technology that is aimed at battery powered wearables, mobile devices, and various Internet of Things products, energy efficiency and being able to balance performance and power depending on what is needed is important.

Dyanmic Body Biasing.jpg

22FDX offers body biasing.

While the process node numbers are not as interesting as the news that FD-SOI will continue itself (thanks to marketing mucking up things heh), GlobalFoundries did share that 12FDX (12nm FD-SOI) will be a true full node shrink that will offer the performance of 10nm FinFET (presumably its own future FinFET tech though they do not specify) with better power characteristics and lower cost than 16nm FinFET. I am not sure if GlobalFoundries is using theoretical numbers or compared it to TSMC’s process here since they do not have their own 16nm FinFET process. Further, 12FDX will feature 15% higher performance and up to 50% lower power consumption that today’s FinFET technologies. The future process is aimed at the “cost sensitive mobile market” that includes IoT, automotive (entertainment and AI), mobile, and networking. FD-SOI is reportedly well suited for processors that combine both digital and analog (RF) elements as well.

Following the roll out of 22FDX GlobalFoundries will be preparing its Fab 1 facility in Dresden, Germany for the 12nm FD-SOI (12FDX) process. The new process is slated to begin tapping out products in early 2019 which should mean products using chips will hit the market in 2020.

The news is interesting because it indicates that there is still interest and research/development being made on FD-SOI and GlobalFoundries is the first company to talk about next generation process plans. Samsung and STMicroelectronics also support FD-SOI but have not announced their future plans yet.

If I had to guess, Samsung will be the next company to talk about future FD-SOI as the company continues to offer both FinFET and FD-SOI to its customers though they certainly do not talk as much about the latter. What are your thoughts on FD-SOI and its place in the market?

Also read: FD-SOI Expands, But Is It Disruptive? @ EETimes

Source: Tech Report

AMD Officially Launches Bristol Ridge Processors And Zen-Ready AM4 Platform

Subject: Motherboards, Processors | September 7, 2016 - 08:08 PM |
Tagged: Zen, Summit Ridge, Excavator, Bristol Ridge, amd, A12-9800

This week AMD officially took the wraps off of its 7th generation APU lineup that it introduced back in May. Previously known as Bristol Ridge, AMD is launching eight new processors along with a new desktop platform that finally brings next generation I/O to AMD systems.

Bristol Ridge maintains the Excavator CPU cores and GCN GPU cores of Carrizo, but on refreshed silicon with performance and power efficiency gains that will bring the architecture started by Bulldozer to an apex. These will be the last chips of that line, and wil be succeeded by AMD's new "Zen" architecture in 2017. For now though, Bristol Ridge delivers as much as 17% higher per thread CPU performance and 27% higher graphics performance while using significantly lower power than its predecessors. Further, AMD has been able to (thanks to various process tweaks that Josh talked about previously) hit some impressive clock speeds with these chips enabling AMD to better compete with Intel's Core i5 offerings.

Bristol Ridge.png

At the top end AMD has the (65W) quad core A12-9800 running at 3.8 GHz base and 4.2 GHz boost paired with GCN 3.0-based Radeon R7 graphics (that support VP9 and HEVC acceleration). These new Bristol Ridge chips are able to take advantage of DDR4 clocked up to 2400 MHz. For DIY PC builders planning to use dedicated graphics, AMD has the non-APU Athlon X4 950 which features four CPU cores at 3.5 GHz base and 3.8 GHz boost with a 65W TDP. While it is not clocked quite as high as its APU counterpart, it should still prove to be a popular choice for budge builds and will replace the venerable Athlon X4 860 and will also be paired with an AM4 motherboard that will be ready to accept a new Zen-based "Summit Ridge" CPU next year.

The following table lists the eight new 7th generation "Bristol Ridge" processors and their specifications. 

  CPU Cores CPU Clocks Base / Boost GPU GPU CUs GPU Clocks (Max) TDP


4 3.8 GHz / 4.2 GHz Radeon R7 8 1,108 MHz 65W
A12-9800E4 4 3.1 GHz / 3.8 GHz Radeon R7 8 900 MHz 35W
A10-9700 4 3.5 GHz / 3.8 GHz Radeon R7 6 1,029 MHz 65W
A10-9700E 4 3.0 GHz / 3.5 GHz Radeon R7 6 847 MHz 35W
A8-9600 4 3.1 GHz / 3.4 GHz Radeon R7 6 900 MHz 65W
A6-9500 2 3.5 GHz / 3.8 GHz Radeon
6 1029 MHz 65W
A6-9500E 2 3.0 GHz / 3.4 GHz Radeon
4 800 MHz 35W
Athlon X4 950 4 3.5 GHz / 3.8 GHz None 0 N/A 65W

Source: AMD

To expand on the performance increases of Bristol Ridge, AMD compared the A12-9800 to the previous generation A10-8850 as well as Intel's Core i5-6500. According to the company, the Bristol Ridge processor handily beats the Carrizo chip and is competitive with the Intel i5. Specifically, when comparing Bristol Ridge and Carrizo, AMD found that the A12-9800 scored 3,521.25 in 3DMark 11 while the A10-8850 (95W Godavari) scored 2,880. Further, when compared in Cinebench R11.5 1T the A12-980 scored 1.21 versus the A10-8850's 1.06. Not bad when you consider that the new processor has a 30W lower TDP!

With that said, the comparison to Intel is perhaps most interesting to the readers. In this case, the A12-9800 is about where you would expect though that is not necessarily a bad thing. It does pull a bit closer to Intel in CPU and continues to offer superior graphics performance.

  AMD A12-9800 (65W) Intel Core i5-6500 (65W) AMD A10-8850 (95W)

3DMark 11 Performance

3,521.25 1,765.75 2,880
PCMark 8 Home Accelerated 3,483.25 3,702 Not run
Cinebench R11.5 1T 1.21 Not run 1.06

Source: AMD

Specifically, in 3DMark 11 Performance the A12-9800's score of 3,521.25 is quite a bit better than the Intel i5-6500's 1,765.75 result. However, in the more CPU focused PCMark 8 Home Accelerated benchmark the Intel comes out ahead with a score of 3,702 versus the AMD A12-9800's score of 3,483.25. If the price is right Bristol Ridge does not look too bad on paper, assuming AMD's testing holds true in independent reviews!

The AM4 Platform

Alongside the launch of desktop 7th generation APUs, AMD is launching a new AM4 platform that supports Bristol Ridge and is ready for Zen APUs next year. The new platform finally brings new I/O technologies to AMD systems including PCI-E 3.0, NVMe, SATA Express, DDR4, and USB 3.1 Gen 2.

According to Digital Trends, AMD's AM4 desktop platform wil span all the way from low end to enthusiast motherboards and these boards will be powered by one of three new chipsets. The three new chipsets are the B350 for mainstream, A320 for "essential," and X/B/A300 for small form factor motherboards. Notably missing is any mention of an enthusiast chipset, but one is reportedly being worked on and will arive closer to the launch of Zen-based processors in 2017.

The image below outlines the differences in the chipsets. Worth noting is that the APUs themselves will handle the eight lanes of PCI-E 3.0, dual channel DDR4, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, and two SATA 6Gbps and two NVMe or PCI-E 3.0 storage devices. This leaves PCI-E 2.0, SATA Express, additional SATA 6Gbps, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection duties to the chipsets.

AMD Bristol Ridge AM4 Chipsets.jpg

As of today, AMD has only announced the availability of AM4 motherboards and 7th generation APUs for OEM systems (with design wins from HP and Lenovo so far). The company will be outlining the channel / DIY PC builder lineup and pricing at a later (to be announced date).

I am looking forward to Zen and in a way the timing of Bristol Ridge seems strange. On the other hand, for OEMs it should do well and hold them over until then (heh) and enthusiasts / DIY builders are able to buy into Bristol Ridge knowing that they will be able to upgrade to Zen next year (while getting better than Carrizo performance with less power and possibly better overclocking) is not a bad option so long as the prices are right!

The full press blast is included below for more information on how they got their benchmark results.

Source: AMD

Leaked Geekbench Results: AMD Zen Performance Extrapolated

Subject: Processors | September 6, 2016 - 03:05 PM |
Tagged: Zen, single thread, geekbench, amd

Over the holiday weekend a leaked Geekbench benchmark result on an engineering sample AMD Zen processor got tech nerds talking. Other than the showcase that AMD presented a couple weeks back using the Blender render engine, the only information we have on performance claims come from AMD touting a "40% IPC increase" over the latest Bulldozer derivative. 

The results from Geekbench show performance from a two physical processor system and a total of 64 cores running at 1.44 GHz. Obviously that clock speed is exceptionally low; AMD demoed Summit Ridge running at 3.0 GHz in the showcase mentioned above. But this does give us an interesting data point with which to do some performance extrapolation. If we assume perfect clock speed scaling, we can guess at performance levels that AMD Zen might see at various clocks. 

I needed a quick comparison point and found this Geekbench result from a Xeon E7-8857 v2 running at 3.6 GHz. That is an Ivy Bridge based architecture and though the system has 48 cores, we are only going to a look at single threaded results to focus on the IPC story.

Obviously there are a ton of caveats with looking at data like this. It's possible that AMD Zen platform was running in a very sub-optimal condition. It's possible that the BIOS and motherboard weren't fully cache aware (though I would hope that wouldn't be the case this late in the game). It's possible that the Linux OS was somehow holding back performance of the Zen architecture and needs update. There are many reasons why you shouldn't consider this data a final decision yet; but that doesn't make it any less interesting to see.

In the two graphs below I divide the collection of single threaded results from Geekbench into two halves and there are three data points for each benchmark. The blue line represents the Xeon Ivy Bridge processor running at 3.6 GHz. The light green line shows the results from the AMD Zen processor running at 1.44 GHz as reported by Geekbench. The dark green line shows an extrapolated AMD Zen performance result with perfect scaling by frequency. 


Continue reading our preview of AMD Zen single threaded performance!!

Source: Geekbench

IBM Prepares Power9 CPUs to Power Servers and Supercomputers In 2018

Subject: Processors | September 2, 2016 - 01:39 AM |
Tagged: IBM, power9, power 3.0, 14nm, global foundries, hot chips

Earlier this month at the Hot Chips symposium, IBM revealed details on its upcoming Power9 processors and architecture. The new chips are aimed squarely at the data center and will be used for massive number crunching in big data and scientific applications in servers and supercomputer nodes.

Power9 is a big play from Big Blue, and will help the company expand its precense in the Intel-ruled datacenter market. Power9 processors are due out in 2018 and will be fabricated at Global Foundries on a 14nm HP FinFET process. The chips feature eight billion transistors and utilize an “execution slice microarchitecture” that lets IBM combine “slices” of fixed, floating point, and SIMD hardware into cores that support various levels of threading. Specifically, 2 slices make an SMT4 core and 4 slices make an SMT8 core. IBM will have Power9 processors with 24 SMT4 cores or 12 SMT8 cores (more on that later). Further, Power9 is IBM’s first processor to support its Power 3.0 instruction set.

IBM Power9.jpg

According to IBM, its Power9 processors are between 50% to 125% faster than the previous generation Power8 CPUs depending on the application tested. The performance improvement is thanks to a doubling of the number of cores as well as a number of other smaller improvements including:

  • A 5 cycle shorter pipeline versus Power8
  • A single instruction random number generator (RNG)
  • Hardware assisted garbage collection for interpreted languages (e.g. Java)
  • New interrupt architecture
  • 128-bit quad precision floating point and decimal math support
    • Important for finance and security markets, massive databases and money math.
    • IEEE 754
  • CAPI 2.0 and NVLink support
  • Hardware accelerators for encryption and compression

The Power9 processor features 120 MB of direct attached eDRAM that acts as an L3 cache (256 GB/s). The chips offer up 7TB/s of aggregate fabric bandwidth which certainly sounds impressive but that is a number with everything added together. With that said, there is a lot going on under the hood. Power9 supports 48 lanes of PCI-E 4.0 (2 GB/s per lane per direction), 48 lanes of proprietary 25Gbps accelerator lanes – these will be used for NVLink 2.0 to connect to NVIDIA GPUs as well as to connect to FPGAs, ASICs, and other accelerators or new memory technologies using CAPI 2.0 (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface) – , and four 16Gbps SMP links (NUMA) used to combine four quad socket Power9 boards into a single 16 socket “cluster.”

These are processors that are built to scale and tackle the big data problems. In fact, not only is Google interested in Power9 to power its services, but the US Department of Energy will be building two supercomputers using IBM’s Power9 CPUs and NVIDI’s Volta GPUs. Summit and Sierra will offer between 100 to 300 Petaflops of computer power and will be installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory respectively. There, some of the projects they will tackle is enabling the researchers to visualize the internals of a virtual light water reactor, research methods to improve fuel economy, and delve further into bioinformatics research.

The Power9 processors will be available in four variants that differ in the number of cores and number of threads each core supports. The chips are broken down into Power9 SO (Scale Out) and Power9 SU (Scale Up) and each group has two processors depending on whether you need a greater number of weaker cores or a smaller number of more powerful cores. Power9 SO chips are intended for multi-core systems and will be used in servers with one or two sockets while Power9 SU chips are for multi-processor systems with up to four sockets per board and up to 16 total sockets per cluster when four four socket boards are linked together. Power9 SO uses DDR4 memory and supports a theoretical maximum 4TB of memory (1TB with today’s 64GB DIMMS) and 120 GB/s of bandwidth while Power9 SU uses IBM’s buffered “Centaur” memory scheme that allows the systems to address a theoretical maximum of 8TB of memory (2TB with 64GB DIMMS) at 230 GB/s. In other words, the SU series is Big Blue’s “big guns.”

Power9 SO Die Shot Photo.jpg

A photo of the 24 core SMT4 Power9 SO die.

Here is where it gets a bit muddy. The processors are further broken down by an SMT4 or SMT8 and both Power9 SO and Power9 SU have both options. There are Power9 CPUs with 24 SMT4 cores and there are CPUs with 12 SMT8 cores. IBM indicated that SMT4 (four threads per core) was suited to systems running Linux and virtualization with emphasis on high core counts. Meanwhile SMT8 (eight threads per core) is a better option for large logical partitions (one big system versus partitioning out the compute cluster into smaller VMs as above) and running IBM’s Hypervisor. In either case (24 SMT4 or 12 SMT8) there is the same number of total threads, but you are able to choose whether you want fewer “stronger” threads on each core or more (albeit weaker) threads per core depending on which you workloads are optimized for.

Servers supporting Power9 are already under development by Google and Rackspace and blueprints are even available from the OpenPower Foundation. Currently, it appears that Power9 SO will emerge as soon as the second half of next year (2H 2017) with Power9 SU following in 2018 which would line up with the expected date for the Summit and Sierra supercomputer launches.

This is not a chip that will be showing up in your desktop any time soon, but it is an interesting high performance processor! I will be keeping an eye on updates from Oak Ridge lab hehe.