RealTime IT News

ClearSpeed Claims Fastest Chip Crown

Who's got the fastest chip -- IBM? Intel ? Sun ? AMD ?

Those of you who answered ClearSpeed Technology can give yourselves a pat on the back. That's the claim anyway. The fabless semiconductor company plans to demonstrate its CXS600 dual-chip board, running at 50 Gigaflops and a mere 25 watts, at the High Performance on Wall Street conference Monday in New York.

A single Gigaflop equals a billion floating-point computer instructions per second, and it's typically used to measure supercomputer performance.

Designed for computing or math-intensive applications, the board fits standard PCI-X slots for workstations or servers or a cluster. Much as a graphics coprocessor speeds the performance of video games, ClearSpeed is designed to do the same in such areas as financial, life sciences, computational chemistry, biology and computer-aided design for fluid dynamics.

"There is no one in the ball park close to our performance," Mike Calise, president of ClearSpeed, told internetnews.com. "We've been endorsed by both Intel and AMD as a means to solve fundamental problems with heat and power dissipation."

ClearSpeed has not yet announced who will be selling boards based on the CXS600, but Calise said there would be announcements from "major OEMs" this year and next. Pricing for add-in boards will be up to the individual OEMs as their products come to market. "I can guarantee you the prices per gigaflop will be unmatched in the industry," said Calise, adding that a good estimate of pricing would start in the low five figures.

Some high-performance specialty chips have required developers to write new software, an expensive, time-consuming process ClearSpeed means to avoid.

"ClearSpeed provides a library interface that enables any of the standard x86 compute-intensive packages to run without ISVs making any changes," said Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight64. "You combine that with the performance -- that's pretty cool stuff."

The CXS600 supports standard calls to the low-level math functions used by applications such as MatLab by The Mathworks and Mathematica by Wolfram Research.

"If you look at all the multicore announcements coming out, the industry is inherently going to parallel processing, because you can get phenomenal results," said Calise.

Way beyond dual-core, the ClearSpeed chip features 96 processors running at "only 250 MHz" each, but gain super speed performance running in parallel.

The need for faster mathematical processing is particularly acute in corporations having to deal with the government's complex Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Calise also mentioned research into new drugs and the human genome as other likely applications.

"And then you have the Wall Street traders who've seen a doubling of their data sets. They're looking at grid technology, but this makes it all doable at the desktop or workstation level."

IBM has said its forthcoming cell processor will be theoretically capable of running as fast as 256 gigaflops per second. It's slated to first appear in Sony's PlayStation 3 game system later next year, although it's also expected to have commercial applications.

IBM is the foundry supplier to ClearSpeed.

"Cell is designed as a 32-bit device and as a standalone processor, so it'll be competing more against RISC solutions," said Calise. "We're 64-bit and work integrally with the main CPU, so we're really in a different market."