GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Top500.org: Clock rate is dead

Twice a year, Erich Strohmaier compiles a list of the the fastest supercomputers in the world, at least those from organizations that submit their benchmarks to Top500.org. This week at the SC06 conference in Tampa, Fl., he unveiled the latest round.

The list over the last year or so has been pretty stable. Once again, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory placed first with the IBM Corp.'s BlueGene/L system, which demonstrated a peak performance of 280.6 trillion calculations per second, or TFLOPS.

The real news was not which system topped the list, but rather the changes within the list itself. A historic view over the two and a half years shows a radical shift in how supercomputers have been obtaining their processing power. And this portends changes for how we all will buy computers eventually.

In short, instead of buying faster processors, system builders are now using more processors. This makes sense, as the chip makers have backed off from the race from higher clock rates in the past few years and have focused their energies towards developing multi-core chips.

Strohmaier noted that at almost exactly the same time that the average clock frequency per processor started leveling off'around June 2004--the number of computational cores per system started dramatically increasing.

"The increase in processor frequencies has come to the end, so to increase performance you have increase the number of cores substantially," Strohmaier said.

Most of the increase in the number of computational cores comes from the emerging use of dual multi-core commodity chips. AMD's dual-core Opterons and Intel's Pentium 4 Xeon in particular have commanded a lion's share of the market. And thanks to BlueGene, IBM's PowerPC chips also command an impressive amount of the total work done by all the processors on the list.

This list also marked the first appearance of a system using add-on coprocessors. A system run by the Tokyo Institute of Technology system running a NEC/Sun grid cluster was boosted into the top 10 by the use of dedicated math coprocessors from Clearspeed.

Clearly, a lot of changes in the microprocessor market are afoot in the years ahead.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Nov 16, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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