Earlier this week, Nvidia’s Steve Scott took on the hype around the new Intel MIC system. Acknowledging the power of a hybrid solution, he then picked apart their design and claims of “port-free performance boosts” from running your x86 code on MIC.
The recent news and industry reaction regarding Intel’s forthcoming “Many Integrated Core” (MIC) accelerator has been interesting to watch. It appears Intel, like NVIDIA and AMD, has now concluded that hybrid architectures are the proper response to the growing power constraints of high performance computing.
While I agree with this, some of the discussions around programming the upcoming MIC chips leave me scratching my head – particularly the notion that, because MIC runs the x86 instruction set, there’s no need to change your existing code, and your port will come for free.
It’s been covered widely, including over at HPCWire.
Scott is not arguing against the MIC as an accelerator, per se. He and most of the community are convinced that HPC needs a hybrid (or heterogeneous) computing to move performance forward without consuming unreasonable amounts of energy. Traditional CPUs, whose cores are optimized for single-threaded performance, are not designed for work requiring lots of throughput. For that type of computing, much better energy efficiency can be delivered using simpler, slower, but more numerous cores. Both GPUs and the MIC adhere to this paradigm; they just come at the problem from different architectural pedigrees
It’s an interesting design, but I think the real power isn’t necessarily in the Intel MIC hardware, but rather in the libraries and tools that Intel is finally developing to assist in the upcoming hybrid computing surge. While you’ll always get better results from custom hand-tuning your code for these systems, it’s a huge boost to productivity to find that your existing libraries have already been ported, and you get a nice boost (but not the best) just from using their libraries.
In the end, I don’t think either NVidia’s or Intel’s MIC are the true path forward, but each will do their own part to push the technology forward into the right answer.