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Intel unveils supercomputer chip, NEC partnership

Intel has disclosed a version of its Xeon processor line optimized for high-performance computing. The company also announces it's teaming up with NEC.

Intel on Monday disclosed a version of its Xeon processor line optimized for supercomputers and announced a partnership with NEC to develop future supercomputers.

At Supercomputing 2009 in Portland, Ore., Intel unveiled a future version of its "Nehalem-EX" processor optimized for supercomputers. The six-core chip will run at higher speeds than eight-core versions of the Nehalem-EX processors and will offer advantages for supercomputer specific tasks, Intel said in a statement. Intel also refers to supercomputing as high-performance computing, or HPC.

The chip architecture will offer greater memory speeds and capacity and will allow customers to build single computers or "nodes" with up to 256 such processors, according to Intel. This will be available next year, Intel said.

Intel said Monday that four out of every five supercomputers on the Top500 list published Monday are powered by Intel processors.

Intel also announced that it is partnering with Japan's NEC--that country's largest supercomputer vendor--to jointly develop technologies "that will push the boundaries of supercomputing performance," according to a joint statement.

NEC will use the technologies in future supercomputers based on the Intel Xeon processor and other technologies such as AVX (Advanced Vector Extensions), an extension to Intel's x86 instruction set architecture.

AVX will be used with Intel's upcoming Sandy Bridge microarchitecture due in 2011, according to Intel.

"With NEC further innovating on Intel Xeon processor-based systems, Intel is poised to bring Intel Xeon processor performance to an even wider supercomputing audience, " said Richard Dracott, general manager of Intel's High Performance Computing Group, in a statement.

Fumihiko Hisamitsu, general manager of HPC Division at NEC, said: "NEC's substantial experience in the development of vector processing a natural fit for taking Intel architecture further into new markets."

A vector processor design can perform operations on multiple data elements simultaneously. Intel Xeon chips are good at scalar processing, which handles one data item at a time.

The initial focus of the collaboration will be the development of technology to boost the memory speed and scalability--the latter refers to expanding a system to increase performance or capacity. "Such enhancements are intended to benefit systems targeting not only the very high end of the scientific computing market segment, but also to benefit smaller HPC installations," the two companies said.

NEC will also continue to sell its existing SX vector processor-based products. NEC, for example, currently markets the SX-9 supercomputer.