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Many-core CPUs bad news for supercomputers

Posted on Sunday, December 07 2008 @ 04:00:46 CET by

Samuel Moore from IEEE complains current multi-core processor designs are bad for supercomputers, because they lack sufficient memory bandwidth.
For informatics, more cores doesn’t mean better performance [see red line in “Trouble Ahead”], according to Sandia’s simulation. “After about 8 cores, there’s no improvement,” says James Peery, director of computation, computers, information, and mathematics at Sandia. “At 16 cores, it looks like 2.” Over the past year, the Sandia team has discussed the results widely with chip makers, supercomputer designers, and users of high-performance computers. Unless computer architects find a solution, Peery and others expect that supercomputer programmers will either turn off the extra cores or use them for something ancillary to the main problem.

At the heart of the trouble is the so-called memory wall—the growing disparity between how fast a CPU can operate on data and how fast it can get the data it needs. Although the number of cores per processor is increasing, the number of connections from the chip to the rest of the computer is not. So keeping all the cores fed with data is a problem. In informatics applications, the problem is worse, explains Richard C. Murphy, a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia, because there is no physical relationship between what a processor may be working on and where the next set of data it needs may reside. Instead of being in the cache of the core next door, the data may be on a DRAM chip in a rack 20 meters away and need to leave the chip, pass through one or more routers and optical fibers, and find its way onto the processor.
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