HPC Specialist Doubts Success of Intel's Knights Ferry

FPGAs May Be Better Solution for HPC than Intel's x86 Accelerators

by Anton Shilov
07/19/2011 | 04:17 PM

In a bid to successfully compete against GPU-based accelerators for high-performance computing (HPC), such as AMD FireStream and Nvidia Tesla, Intel Corp. is designing its own many-core architecture (MIC) and accelerators on its base. But a designer of special-purpose accelerators for HPC based on FPGAs believes that the success of products like Intel Knights Ferry/Knights Corner is not cast in stone.


"Intel's goal is to make machines easier to program, [but HPC customers] care more about performance and operational cost," said Oskar Mencer, CEO of Maxeler Technologies, a company that develops HPC accelerators based on various field programmable gate array (FPGA) devices, in an interview with The Inquirer web-site.

At present the majority of Top 500 supercomputers in the world that are used for high-performance scientific computing are powered by x86 processors by Advanced Micro Devices or Intel. The world's largest maker of microprocessors has long said that compatibility with x86 architecture as well as already available tools to create x86 programs is clearly required for HPC market, which is why its MIC-based accelerators eventually will be more successful than AMD FireStream or Nvidia Tesla that are based on non-x86-compatible graphics processing units. But many disagree.

Although GPUs are FPGAs are harder to program, the latter consume less power, their costs are not too high and sometimes they even provide better flexibility. Moreover, according to Mr. Mencer, certain FPGAs can provide ten times better performance compared to Intel's Knights Ferry development kit.

"Putting in more effort allows our customers to differentiate themselves. More effort leads to greater performance [and] performance per watt," said Mr. Mencer.

According to the chief exec of Maxeler, Intel's commercial MIC product code-named Knights Corner (which has over 50 cores and which is made using 22nm process technology) will only reach commercial deployments in 12 - 18 months from now. The head of the company believes that Intel is also not truly interested in specialist HPC market and is more focused on selling its microprocessors for desktops, notebooks or servers.