SAN FRANCISCO--An ARM CPU is inherently more efficient than an x86 CPU and therefore best suited toward the high performance computing needs of the future, according to Nvidia Corp.
In a recent interview, Nvidia’s Sumit Gupta, director of Tesla marketing, said the only real advantage to x86 systems was that they could run operating systems like Microsoft Windows faster, but that when it came to needing maximum performance on minimum power, ARM was the future, and therefore a better option for supercomputing.
ARM architecture, explained Gupta, emerged out of the embedded space, where power limitations were prevalent and where less than a watt of power was considered a norm. All performance was therefore constrained from the conceptual phase of the chip’s design, forcing engineers to be especially creative about power efficiencies.
Intel and AMD’s x86 architecture, on the other hand, had been designed with PCs in mind, and came from a world in which machines were typically plugged in to wall sockets and faced no real power limitations.
“The number one consideration for x86 has always been to make operating systems like Windows run much faster and to be able to respond to unpredictable tasks, such as a mouse-click or a keyboard entry,” said Gupta, noting that the need for branch prediction and speculative execution was the reason x86 processors had such sizeable cache.
“It’s a terrific processor for everyday computing, not the right device as we go towards high performance computing,” he maintained.
Nvidia is already helping the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) to develop a hybrid supercomputer based on its Tegra ARM CPUs, accelerated by CUDA-supporting Tesla GPUs, with hopes of reaching exascale performance in a European project known as “Mont-Blanc”.
The hybrid will be the world's first ARM-based CPU/GPU supercomputing combination, and researchers at BSC have said they hope to achieve a short term goal of a two to five times improvement in energy efficiency compared with today's most efficient systems, with an ultimate goal of reaching exascale at 15 to 30 times less power.
Should the proof of concept work, Nvidia may well prove its point, but success seems a few years away at this point. In the meanwhile, Nvidia said it will continue working on a development board for the HPC community which the firm hopes will kickstart the software ecosystem around the ARM architecture for the supercomputers of the future.