back to article UK, you Cray. Boffins flex ARM in 'first-of-its-kind' bonkers HPC rig

A fellowship of four UK universities, along with HPC veteran Cray and the Met Office, have been handed £3m to build a 10,000+ ARM core supercomputer. The project could settle whether ARM-based supercomputers can beat Xeon ones on cost while offering the right performance. The scheme is called Isambard, after 19th century Brit …

  1. Korev Silver badge

    Fun to watch

    Other institutions like CSCS (Swiss National Supercomputing Centre) run their weather codes on Nvidia GPUS; it could be rather fun to see how these architectures perform in the medium to long term.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fun to watch

      Dunno about 'fun' but I'm very interested to see how it goes.

      Although seemingly primarily based on Arm, with that mixture of Arm, x86(Xeon and Phi) and GPU it seems more like a test/evaluation system. I can't see a good reason to incorporate all of those technologies in a single system unless it is to compare the different processor architectures within the same system architecture, so perhaps testing the system architecture as well as Arm technology.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Wow £3m

    A major British investment - Japan's new supercomputer is $175M, God knows what the US spends on secret systems.

    Looks like Britain will once more straddle the globe as an international research colossus.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow £3m

      Was thinking the same - it's chump change these days. The Department of Trade and Industry should be able to find that down the back of the sofa.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow £3m

        Wow, £3m. That's a massive 20,000sq ft of London office space (for a year).

        For comparison, the House of Commons Administration reports: "In 2015-16 net income of £16.4 million was generated predominantly from commercial activities including retail, tour activities, catering and from property receipts. "

  3. kmac499

    I just had a vision of 10,000 of the new Raspberry Pi SODIMM compute modules clicked into place like the scales on the back of a giant dragon. What a BitCoin mine that would be; Smaug making his own gold..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > I just had a vision of 10,000 of the new Raspberry Pi SODIMM compute modules clicked into place like the scales on the back of a giant dragon.

      Not even that. The PI is quad core, so you'd only need 2,500 of them.

    2. SeanC4S

      Ah, but they tend to use an 8 bit data bus to reduce costs. Z80 style. I wouldn't be surprised if the RPi 3 had a 8 bit data bus.

  4. dmck

    I assume it won't run RISC OS ?

  5. Pen-y-gors


    Memories of Round the Horne:

    Sultry voiced Betty Marsden: "Hold me Isambard"

    Bill Pertwee "Hold your own Isambard, Miss!"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile in other news...

    ..scientists have determined that any theoretical global warming could be stopped if all the computers running ineffective climate models were switched off...and all the airmile gobbling conferences on climate change were abandoned...

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Interesting opportunity for comparison.

    Could be a great day for ARM.

    I find it hard to believe that an ARM array at the same clock frequency and with appropriately sized caches on each processor, would not beat an Intel code museum.

    The results should be very interesting, but I suspect not without dispute.

    1. CheesyTheClown

      Re: Interesting opportunity for comparison.

      Not really.

      1) Supercomputing code generally is written by scientists and runs horribly. I've done multiple tests and found that I often can rewrite their code and perform better on 40 processor cores and 4 GPUs than they do on 3 million pound computers.

      2) We're not comparing ARM to x86 here. That comparison can be accomplished far better with a few desktop systems. Performance-wise, you're making the assumption that performance is related to instruction set. It's generally about instruction execution performance and memory performance. Intel uses more transistors on their multipliers than ARM uses in their entire chip. This may sound inefficient, but it is those things which given Intel an edge. Let's also consider that memory performance is almost all about management of DDR bursts and block alignment. ARM has much tighter restrictions on those things. Also, more often than not, the scientific code makes profiting from cache utterly meaningless. Ask a scientist working on this code whether they can describe the DDR burst architecture or whether they can describe cache coherency within the CPU ring bus or whether they can explain the process of mutexing within a NUMA environment.

      This is about whether shitty code costs less to run on one computer 100 times larger than it should be vs another.

      For 3 million pounds, I would imagine they could have bought a gaming PC and a programmer.

  8. SeanC4S

    I think this chip is interesting:

    The thing I kinda worry about is that it might be as difficult to program as one of those old cell processors. A super computer was actually built of cell processors but abandoned after 3 year. Reading between the lines it seems no one could or was interested in programming the thing.

    1. Bob H

      It has a tiny cache, a nightmare for any complex routines to be programmed.

      It'll be Intel's Cavium ThunderX CPUs.

  9. dbannon

    Prove ARM chips with GPUs ?

    "...... and NVIDIA P100 GPUs....."

    Of course, it will need the GPUs to get a good linpack score.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What have Chris Mellor Invented?

    To be honest, what have Chris Mellor invented in his life? He doesn't have a clue what he´s writing about.

  11. IanMoore33

    $3m is chump change

    $3m pounds ( or US dollars) to create a new ARM platform won't last a month.

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