Intel Claims Supercomputing Lead With New Xeon Phis

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

In the next version, Knights Landing, Xeon Phi gets its own CPU

Intel says its new Xeon Phi co-processors, announced today, give it a lead in the use of co-processor units for top supercomputers. The company also revealed that the next-generation Xeon Phi, currently known as Knights Landing, will have its own CPU.

There are three new Xeon Phi models, designed for high speed, low price and high density systems. With these new systems, Intel says it has the supercomputing crown, as Xeon Phis are used in China’s Tianhe-2, or MilkyWay-2 supercomputer, whose 55PetaFlops puts it at the top of the latest edition of the Top500 list of supercomputers.

intel xeon phi product family

Knights round the corner

“Xeon Phi was only announced last year, several years after the competition,” said Rajeeb Hazra, vice president for data centres and connected systems at Intel, in a phone pre-briefing. Now it leads the others, he said.

Supercomputers are now mostly built using co-processors, originally created for graphics work, for the heavy duty calculation. The field was first exploited by AMD and Nvidia’s Tesla. Intel’s response, the Xeon Phi architecture is also known as the Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture, and previous generations have been called Knights Ferry and Knights Corner, before it gained the Xeon Phi name in 2012.

Today’s announcement includes new Knights Corner units in the 7100 series: the 7120P and 7120X coprocessors are designed for the highest performance. There are also two new units in the cheaper 3100 branch of the family, the 3120P and 3120A.  There’s also a 5120D co-processor added to the 5100 series, which is a “socketed” part designed for high density deployment.

Intel also announced the next-generation Xeon Phi, Knights Landing, will bend the concept of the co-processor a bit, by also functioning as a standalone CPU. The Knights Landing will be made with Intel’s 14nm fabrication process, said Hazra. Offloading processing onto a co-processor is powerful, but a little “unnatural,” he explained.

intel xeon phi knights landing

The concept of heterogeneous supercomputing – based on processors and co-processors – is now fully established, he said, citing a survey carried out by IDC, which found that 70 percent of supercomputer buyers expect to buy co-processors in future (last year only 30 percent trusted the idea).

“Heterogeneity is here to stay,” said Hazra. Xeon Phi was the most popular choice in the survey, he said.

The new co-processors also have a new file system – the enterprise Edition of Lustre.

The units are expected to do well in the Green500 supercomputer list as well as the Top500, as they allow denser packing and only need 20W.

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