The world’s biggest chip maker, Intel, is struggling because it missed out on the market in chips for mobile devices. Now mobile chips are coming for a market Intel has long had mostly to itself, supercomputers.
Supercomputers are used in government, academia, and industry for research on topics as varied as nuclear weapons and potential new drugs. Intel chips power more than 90 percent of the 500 most powerful of these, as well as dominating the server and PC markets. But smartphones and tablets are almost all powered by chips built using designs licensed from U.K. company ARM, which has long prioritized energy efficiency (see “Intel Outside”).
Fujitsu said this week that it will use ARM-based processors to build a successor to an existing Japanese supercomputer called Project K. Fujitsu is building the "Post-K" machine for the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, which plans to use it for biomedical, climate, and energy research. The computer is slated to be installed and turned on in 2020.
A replacement for the K supercomputer at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, will be built using chips similar to those in smartphones.Fujitsu announced that plan at the International Supercomputing Conference in Germany, where there was more bad news for Intel. A new list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers was revealed, and the new top machine is not based on Intel’s x86 technology.
The makers of the Chinese TaihuLight system, at the National Supercomputing Center in the Chinese city of Wuxi, used a custom-built processor that uses an unspecified architecture built by the Chinese (see “New Fastest Supercomputer Is Chinese Through and Through”).
The power of supercomputers can be measured by the number of operations they can perform per second, using a metric known as FLOPS. TaihuLight performs at 93 petaflops—a thousand billion per second.
TaihuLight has a crazy amount of computing power, but it isn’t enough. And the prospects for making supercomputers get faster have started to look murky in recent years. Using more powerful chips—usually from Intel—used to deliver predictable gains in high-performance computing. But other factors, like the speed at which data can be moved around inside the system, have become limiting. And the power bills racked up by top supercomputers have become a major headache. The race to build bigger machines has seemingly hit a wall.
Computers from supercomputers down to mobile devices used to get more and more powerful as chip makers crammed more and smaller transistors onto chips, a trend known as Moore’s Law. But transistors are no longer shrinking so fast, and the power consumption of chips is getting out of control. Supercomputer builders have started looking to alternative designs that could allow their machines to keep getting faster. One of those is ARM.
“It’s a disruptive time to be in high performance computing,” says James Cuff, assistant dean for research computing at Harvard University. “Those that design machines inside the power envelope with the right support of key algorithms and codes are going to be the players that ultimately win in this new game.”
Read more here: www.technologyreview.com/s/601754/supercomputer-powered-by-mobile-chips-suggests-new-threat-to-intel/