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Cray jumped from AMD for the flexibility and performance of Intel chips

Claims world class performance
Thu Nov 08 2012, 08:00

SUPERCOMPUTER VENDOR Cray has said its decision to move away from AMD in its XC30 cluster codenamed Cascade was due to Intel chips' significantly improved performance and flexibility.

Cray has been a staunch supporter of AMD, with its Opteron processors powering its previous generation XE6 clusters, however the firm opted to install Intel's Sandy Bridge Xeons in its next generation Cascade XC30 cluster. The firm told The INQUIRER the decision to go with Intel's Xeon chips was due to improved performance and flexibility.

With Cray selling its interconnect business to Intel and supporting Xeon Phi accelerators the two firms have been getting closer to each other in the last few years. Barry Bolding, VP of Storage and Data Management and corporate marketing at Cray told The INQUIRER that the firm's use of Intel Xeon chips in its Cascade XC30 cluster doesn't mean that Cray has completely shut the door on AMD.

Bolding said, "This is a big step for us from just providing AMD based solutions or AMD combined with Nvidia. This allows us to really move forward and do Intel based Xeon, Intel based Phi and Nvidia. We haven't announced an Opteron product up to this stage, but it is fully supported in the PCI [Express] Gen 3."

Bolding made it clear that if there is a great product from AMD that Cray or one of its customers wishes to incorporate, Cray can do it.

"There's nothing wrong with our partnership with AMD," added Bolding, and he said that there are "design features up to Interlagos that we love".

Bolding said Intel had suffered "hiccups" with its Xeon processors in the past but that Intel's current generation Sandy Bridge and upcoming Ivy Bridge chips provide the mix of performance and connectivity that the firm was looking for when it designed the Cascade XC30 cluster.

"We are getting more experience with Intel, and we believe the Xeon line is greatly improved over what it was in previous generations. They have had some hiccups along the way but we do believe Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge are world-class processors for high performance computing [HPC], performance," Bolding said.

Bolding said Cray's decision to use Intel Xeon processors was down to flexibility. "We need to be able to to choose the best processor in any generation," said Bolding, indicating that Intel Xeon chips were the best fit with the firm's Aries interconnect.

Bolding said Cray will still sell AMD's chips for its existing clusters, and noted that XE6 clusters can be upgraded using AMD 6300 series Opteron chips.

However, given Cray's position in the HPC community, its decision to move away from AMD for the Cascade XC30 HPC cluster will be a painful blow for the chip designer. µ


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