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Smartphone chips could replace server processors in HPC, researchers say

Agam Shah | May 27, 2013
A team of researchers in Spain have concluded that smartphone chips could one day replace the more expensive and power-hungry x86 processors used in most of the world's top supercomputers

In a battle between two ARM chips, the Nvidia Tegra 3 chip was compared to Samsung's Exynos 5250. The Exynos 5250 was 1.7 times faster than the Tegra 3 on single-core performance.

Hewlett-Packard recently launched its Moonshot server, which is based on Intel's low-power Atom server chip. ARM processors from Calxeda and Texas Instruments are expected to be used in future Moonshot systems. Dell has also built prototype ARM servers and is contemplating use of the low-power chips in supercomputers.

The BSC researchers point to weaknesses in ARM designs that may hold up their use in servers. Today's ARM chips are 32-bit designs, meaning the amount of memory they can address is limited. They also lack error correction technologies, have no network off-load chip, and do not use standard I/O interfaces.

ARM has announced a 64-bit design, however, and Calxeda, AMD and AppliedMicro are among the chip makers expected to ship 64-bit ARM chipsets with an array of I/O and networking features.

As the ARM server market evolves, the technical challenges will be resolved, according to the researchers, and increased competition could further drive down prices.

"Mobile processors have qualities that make them interesting for HPC," the researchers wrote, advising readers to "get ready for the change, before it happens."

 

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