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Cray Will Add Intel Processors To Supercomputers
Cray Will Add Intel Processors To Supercomputers

By Barry Levine
April 29, 2008 9:26AM

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Intel and Cray will use Intel multicore processors and Intel's QuickPath Interconnect technology in future Cray high-performance computing (HRC) systems. Cray CEO and President Peter Ungaro said Intel will still use Advanced Micro Devices chips, but an analyst said the Intel-Cray deal for supercomputers could hurt AMD's reputation.

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Peter Ungaro

Cray and Intel announced Monday a multiyear agreement to develop new supercomputers. Cray CEO and President Peter Ungaro said the agreement has the "potential of bringing together Intel's powerful silicon expertise and Cray's industry leadership" in scalable high-performance computing (HPC) systems.

Intel executive Patrick Gelsinger added that the collaboration will allow HPC users to take advantage of future Xeon and other Intel processor technologies.

Cray and AMD

The deal also involves Cray's licensing of Intel QuickPath Interconnect technology and an agreement for Cray to use Intel processors in systems that could be released as soon as 2011. Cray has been using processors from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices, as well as AMD's HyperTransport chip interconnect.

Among other projects, Cray has been using AMD processors and HyperTransport for several supercomputers it is building with IBM under a contract worth about $500 million with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). AMD technology was being used for Cray's Cascade system, which was featured in the DARPA bid.

Reportedly, Seattle-based Cray has now asked DARPA to use Intel technology in its Cascade technology.

Ungaro said this is not a switch, and Cray will still use AMD technology. Intel's increased efforts in the supercomputing space, including scaling up a business unit devoted to this area, reportedly played a part in Cray's increased interest in its technology.

AMD's Reputation

Among the component designs the companies will explore are multi-core processing and advanced interconnects. One of the goals is to link Intel's QuickPath Interconnect with Cray's systems-level interconnect. The collaboration is expected to result in a range of HPC systems and technologies over several years.

Supercomputers are used for computer-intensive tasks, ranging from weather forecasting to drug designing. Processors are typically two to four cores, but supercomputers have hundreds or thousands of processors, and new generations could have processors with more cores.

Martin Reynolds, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner, said the impact of the Cray-Intel deal on AMD will "not be so much in terms of revenue," but that it could have some impact on AMD's reputation.

For Cray, he noted, it's all about "power, performance and price," with performance obviously the main focus. In general, he added, Intel's products are now growing faster in performance than AMD's. Although Cray has said it will still use AMD technology, Reynolds pointed out that switching between Intel and AMD processors and interconnects is "not a horrifyingly complex thing to do."

Cray Inc. was born in 2000, when Seattle-based Tera Computer acquired the assets of Cray Research and changed its own name. The company is now a global leader in supercomputing, with 800 employees worldwide.

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