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May 08, 2008

Berkeley Labs and Tensilica working on energy efficient supercomputers


Berkeley Lab has signed a collaboration agreement with Tensilica®, Inc. to explore the use of Tensilica’s Xtensa processor cores as the basic building blocks in a massively parallel system design. Tensilica’s Xtensa processor is about 400 times more efficient in floating point operations per watt than the conventional server processor chip shown here and is far smaller than a regular chip as shown above.

Here is an update on Berkeley Lab's Computational research division development of Tensilica configurable processor based supercomputers

Nextbigfuture had previously covered a plan and research paper analysis to use Tensilica configurable processors to make petaflop and exaflop supercomputers that were far more affordable and energy efficient.

Wehner, Oliker and Shalf, along with researchers from UC Berkeley, are working with scientists from Colorado State University to build a prototype system in order to run a new global atmospheric model developed at Colorado State.

They conclude that a supercomputer using about 20 million embedded microprocessors would deliver the results and cost $75 million to construct. This “climate computer” would consume less than 4 megawatts of power and achieve a peak performance of 200 petaflops. They have shown for the exascale computing regime, it makes more sense to target machine design for specific applications [at this time]. It is currently impractical from a cost and power perspective to build general-purpose machines like today’s supercomputers.

Under the agreement with Tensilica, the team will use Tensilica’s Xtensa LX extensible processor cores as the basic building blocks in a massively parallel system design. Each processor will dissipate a few hundred milliwatts of power, yet deliver billions of floating point operations per second and be programmable using standard programming languages and tools. This equates to an order-of-magnitude improvement in floating point operations per watt, compared to conventional desktop and server processor chips. The small size and low power of these processors allows tight integration at the chip, board and rack level and scaling to millions of processors within a power budget of a few megawatts.

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