Knights Corner edges into supercomputing arena

Intel has shown its 50-core Knights Corner processor carrying out a teraflop of double-precision floating point calculations, a key demonstration of the chip's capabilities for supercomputing

Intel has shown a Knights Corner chip reaching a teraflop of processing performance, the same as the most powerful supercomputer in the world in 1997.

Knights Corner chip

Intel has shown its 50-core Knights Corner processor carrying out a teraflop of double-precision floating point calculations. Photo credit: Intel

The demonstration, at SC2011 on Tuesday, means Intel has brought the computational ability of the 9,680-chip Sandia National Laboratories ASCI Red system to a single processor. The 50-core Knights Corner is based on technologies from Intel's non-commercial Larrabee chip and its single-chip cloud computer research project. It is a key component of Intel's mission to develop an exascale supercomputer by 2018.

"When available, Intel MIC [many-integrated core] products will offer both high performance from an architecture specifically designed to process highly parallel workloads, and compatibility with the existing x86 programming model and tools," Intel said in a statement.

The MIC chip carried out a trillion double-precision calculations per second — a teraflop — measured using the DGEMM benchmark. Double-precision numbers are important for supercomputing, as they can precisely represent a greater range of numbers than single-precision ones.

While Knights Corner is expected to go on sale in 2012, many research organisations around the world, including Cern and the SKA South Africa project, have been testing its predecessor, the Knights Ferry research chip, this year. Intel has said Knights Corner will appear in the 10-petaflop 'Stampede' supercomputer from the University of Texas in 2013.

Knights Corner will be manufactured via Intel's 22nm tri-gate process. It will have over 50 cores — Intel has not disclosed the precise number — and is designed for highly parallel workloads.

Unusually, the chip will launch into a market already led by another vendor, start-up chip designer Tilera. Tilera has produced a range of Risc-based processors with up to 100 cores that are targeted at many of the same uses as Knight's Corner — high-performance computing, supercomputing and data analysis.

ZDNet UK understands that Tilera's chips are already being used to process cybersecurity and signals intelligence tasks by a number of government agencies and prime contractors.

Intel argues that because Knights Corner is based on the widely deployed x86 chip architecture, organisations will not have to tweak a lot of code to get applications to run on the chip. However, Tilera has developed compilers for its Risc-based processors that automate the task of recompiling code for the chips.

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