Tilera Chips Beat Intel And AMD Claims Facebook

Facebook engineers say Tilera’s multi-core processors are more efficient than low-power Intel and AMD chips

Tilera, which builds many-core processors to compete with x86-based chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), got a boost from Facebook when engineers from the social media giant said Tilera’s processors out-performed those of its larger rivals.

The Facebook engineers released a white paper at the International Green Computing Conference in Orlando, Florida, that said tests determined that a Quanta Computer system running on Tilera’s low-power 64-core TilePro64 processors offered more than three times the performance-per-watt of systems running Intel’s quad-core Xeon chips and more than four times than servers running AMD’s eight-core Opteron chips.

The report comes at a time when Intel and AMD, the dominant server chip makers, are being challenged in the market for low-power systems that are increasingly being used by Internet-based companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter, which have huge, densely populated data centres designed to process large amounts of small, Web-based workloads. In such environments, power and cooling are as important of factors as performance.

Important Role In Web 2.0

In the white paper, the Facebook engineers said key-value, or KV, stores play an important role in such Web 2.0 environments. They also noted that applications found in such data centres, such as Memcached, have hundreds of thousands of independent simple transactions that need to be processed in parallel. Facebook ran the tests using Memcached, and engineers found that the Tilera-based system was more efficient than those running x86 chips.

Low-power many-core processors are well suited to KV store workloads with large amounts of data,” the engineer wrote in their paper. “Despite their low clock speeds, these architectures can perform on-par or better than comparably powered low-core-count x86 server processors.”

In this case, Facebook found the 64-core Tilera chip had 67 percent higher throughput than the low-power x86 chips at the same latency. At the same time, the engineers wrote that “when taking power and node integration into account as well, a TILEPro64-based S2Q server with eight processors handles at least three times as many transactions per second per watt as the x86-based servers with the same memory footprint”.

For the testing, Facebook used a 1U (1.75-inch) server running a quad-core Intel Xeon L5520 chip running at 2.7GHz, a 1U server powered by AMD’s eight-core Opteron 6128 HE clocked at 2.0GHz, and a 2U (3.5-inch) Quanta S2Q with eight Tilera TilePro64 processors – for a total of 512 cores – at 866MHz. Tilera officials said Facebook also plans to run the same tests on Tilera’s new 64-bit Gx3000 series processor, which was announced in June. That chip will begin sampling this month.

Tilera officials noted that Quanta builds Facebook’s open compute platform. In April, Facebook officials launched their Open Compute Project, open sourcing the specifications it uses for its hardware and data centre to efficiently power its massive social network. That is in contrast to others like Amazon, Google and Twitter, which keep the technology used in their data centres a secret.

Big Guns Target Micro Server Space

Intel and AMD are both working to drive up the performance and power efficiency of their processors though such avenues as adding more cores and integrating high-level graphics onto the same piece of silicon as the CPU. For the past two years, Intel also has been pushing the idea of micro servers, designed for highly virtualised data centres and cloud computing environments and using low-power Xeon and Atom chips.

At the same time, other chip vendors and systems makers are looking to make inroads into the low-power server space. Officials with ARM Holdings, whose designs dominate the mobile computing space, including smartphones and tablets, are looking to move up the ladder and into the data centre. A number of companies that make ARM-based chips, including Nvidia, Calxeda and Marvell Technologies, are pushing ahead with plans to release server processors based on ARM designs. SeaMicro is rolling out low-power servers based on Intel’s Atom processors.

Tilera officials said they do not expect to overtake Intel as the world’s top chip maker. However, it can challenge Intel and AMD in the 20 percent of the server market aimed at large cloud installations, they have said.