[Beowulf] Vector coprocessors

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Thu Mar 16 06:22:29 PST 2006

At 12:04 AM 3/16/2006, Daniel Pfenniger wrote:
>The shipment of this accelerator card has been delayed many times. Last time
>I asked was October 2005.   Apparently the first shipment has been made this
>month for a Japanese supercomputer with 10^4 Opterons.   The cost is not
>indicated, but something like above $8000.- per card would put it outside
>commodity hardware.  I wouldn't be astonished that more performance can
>be obtained in most applications with commodity clustering.

There are probably applications where a dedicated card can blow the doors 
off a collection of PCs.  At some point, the interprocessor communication 
latency inherent in any sort of cabling between processors would start to 

>If Clearspeed would consider mass production with a cost like $100.-$500.-
>per card the market would be huge, because the card would be competing with
>multi-core processors like the IBM-Sony Cell.

You need "really big" volumes to get there. Retail pricing of $200 implies 
a bill of materials cost down in the sub $20 range.  Considering that a run 
of the mill ASIC spin costs >$1M (for a small number of parts produced), 
your volume has to be several hundred thousand (or a million) before you 
even cover the cost of your development.

The video card folks can do this because
a) each successive generation of cards is derived from the past, so the NRE 
is lower.. most of the card (and IC) is the same
b) they have truly gargantuan volumes
c) they have sales from existing products to provide cash to support the 
development of version N+1.

{I leave aside the possibility of magic elves, although with some consumer 
products, I have no idea how they can design, produce, and sell it at the 
price they do.  Making use of relative currency values can also help, but 
that's in the non-technological magic elf category, as far as I'm concerned.}

>The possibly most interesting niche for the Clearspeed cards appears to me
>accelerating proprietary applications like Matlab, Mathematica and 
>Excel that run on a single PC and that can hardly be reprogrammed by their
>users to run on a distributed cluster.

I would say that there is more potential for a clever soul to reprogram the 
guts of Matlab, etc., to transparently share the work across multiple 
machines.  I think that's in the back of the mind of MS, as they move 
toward a services environment and .NET


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