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The Fastest Computers Are Going Hybrid

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A clearly recognizable trend at the recent SC08 conference in Austin, Texas, was a general shift in supercomputer design toward using multiple types of processors in a single system. Over the past decade, an increasing number of the supercomputers on the Top500 list have used commodity processors. Although commodity processors are not as powerful as vector processors designed specifically for the high-performance computer market, they are much less expensive and provide more processing power per dollar.

Meanwhile, developers have started augmenting commodity processor-based supercomputers with specialty processors, including floating-point accelerators, field-programmable gate arrays, repurposed graphics processing units, and processors designed for video-game consoles. The industry is shifting toward using a combination of processors because using both commodity processors and specialty processors makes highly efficient yet powerful and inexpensive machines.

"Power performance has become a very important metric as of late — some feel even more important than [simply] performance," says University of California, Berkeley graduate student Kaushik Datta, who presented the results of a study he led about the best ways to design multicore systems at the SC08 conference. "As you specialize the chip, you're able to be much more efficient with what you are doing with the flops," says Intel senior research scientist Timothy Mattson.

From Government Computer News
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