June 22, 2007

Nvidia will have double precision floating point soon

Hpcwire (High Performance Computing Wire), looks at the Nvidia Tesla and expected future competition

The Tesla S870 server board is really the big breakthrough for NVIDIA, since it represents their first product designed for the HPC datacenter. It fits in a 1U chassis, contains four GPUs, and communicates with the server host using a Gen 2 PCI Express switch. Temperature sensors and system monitoring are included to provide the level of reliability expected in datacenter hardware. The board dissipates 550 watts. Add another 10 watts for a PCI Express host adapter card. That might seem like a lot of juice for an accelerator, but for 560 watts you get over 2 teraflops of single-precision performance. MSRP for the server board is $12,000.

The Tesla server also comes in a 2-GPU version, and an 8-GPU version is in the works. The latter configuration is expected to improve upon the performance per watt ratio somewhat.

The addition of double-precision capability will open up the entire technical computing market for NVIDIA, since the inherent limitations of single precision arithmetic will be removed. So unless AMD comes out with a double precision GPU in the next few months, NVIDIA will be the vendor to pioneer 64-bit floating point in GPGPU computing. As such, it becomes a more direct competitor with ClearSpeed boards, a math co-processor offering that also targets the HPC market. Although NVIDIA has not released power or performance specs for their upcoming double-precision devices, one can surmise that ClearSpeed will be able to claim a performance per watt advantage, but perhaps not a performance per dollar advantage. Depending on how Intel's Larrabee processor development plays out, NVIDIA could eventually run into additional competition there as well.

In any case, there may be plenty of acceleration opportunities to go around. The commercial HPC market is growing rapidly -- even faster than the general IT market. According to IDC, technical computing revenues will reach $14.2 billion by 2010. Currently, the oil & gas and financial services segments represent two of the highest growth areas right now. But manufacturing, biotech and government HPC are also expanding. NVIDIA thinks its new HPC line can ride a lot of this growth as users start to figure out that Tesla-equipped workstations can replace decent sized clusters and Tesla-equipped clusters can match the raw performance in some high-end supercomputers.

The new devices will support double precision math, a basic requirement for many technical computing applications. Double precision support will make its first NVIDIA appearance at the end of Q4, 2007. At this point, it's not clear if NVIDIA's first double precision processor will be in a Quadro product or the new HPC offering.

Nvidia's latest offerings are still at the 80nm process.

The NVidia Tesla systems might get updated with the G92 technology and 65nm processes for triple the performance and lower power usage in 2008 Annual upgrades could triple performance each year.