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Intel's Knights Corner to debut in Texas supercomputer

Intel's many-integrated core processor is set to make its first supercomputer appearance in a 10-petaflop HPC located at the University of Texas at Austin
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Knights Corner, Intel's greatest hope for next-generation exascale supercomputing, is set to debut in the University of Texas's Stampede supercomputer in 2013.

Work on the 10-petaflop Stampede, which will be housed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is under way. Over 80 percent of Stampede's computational ability — eight petaflops — will come from the 22nm Knights Corner many-integrated core (MIC) processors, Intel said on Thursday. The remaining 20 percent will be provided by Xeon E5 chips.

"Being able to run the same code on both Intel Xeon processors and Knights Corner co-processors should allow developers to reuse their existing code and programming expertise, which leads to greater productivity," Intel's director of technical computing marketing, Joe Curley, wrote in a blog post.

"Also, since Knights Corner is based on fully programmable Intel processors, it can run complex codes that are very difficult to program on more restrictive accelerator technologies," he added.

Stampede will be made up of thousands of Dell Zeus servers, equipped with Knights Corner or dual eight-core Xeon E5 processors. Also, it will have 128 next-generation Nvidia GPUs. The partners did not say what these GPUs will be based on, but Nvidia's Tesla has been tapped by Cray for an upcoming high-performance computing architecture that can scale to 50 petaflops.

"Intel MIC co-processors are designed to process highly parallel workloads and provide the benefits of using the most popular x86 instruction set," the University of Texas said in a statement. The machine is expected to work on data visualisation and analysis projects that run the gamut of scientific disciplines.

Intel's competition

Intel faces competition from Tilera in many-core processors. Tilera's most recent family, the Tilera GX, had up to 100 cores, compared with the yet-to-be-released Knights Corner's 50 or so cores.

Intel's main point of differentiation is that its MICs are x86 based, while Tilera's are Risc. Though Tilera bundles software that allows x86 cores to be recompiled for its architecture, Intel has repeatedly stressed the programming advantages of using an all-x86 stack.

Once it goes online in two years, the general-purpose supercomputer will run Linux. This will make it the most powerful publicly announced x86-based Linux cluster in the US, according to the University of Texas.

The system is being built with a $27.5m (£17.8m) investment grant from the US National Science Foundation, and the project has funding for four years, with an option for renewal in 2017. The plan is to link the supercomputer to eXtreme Digital, the US's shared computing environment for researchers and academics that is similar to the UK's Janet.

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