Summary:

During the 90s, Intel made big strides in getting its commodity chips in supercomputers or high performance computing systems that crunch big data. But chips built using the ARM architecture common to cell phones are likely to find a home in HPC in the near future.

During the 90s, Intel made big strides in getting its commodity chips in supercomputers, or high-performance computing systems (HPC) that handle the big data crunching at labs, universities and large companies. However, according to an article from Inside HPC, chips built using the ARM architecture common to cell phones are likely to find a home in HPC in the coming years, making this yet another market where Intel will face off against the British IP firm. From the article:

In textbook disruptive fashion, ARM CPUs were significantly lower cost and lower performance than X86 CPUs along the top mainstream basis of competition. Sure, ARM ICs were cheap and low power, but they were as slow as molasses and couldn’t boot Windows. This allowed ARM to dominate a colossal, vibrant mobile ecosystem that X86 neither played in nor particularly cared about. Design wins and licensees proliferated. Billions of chips were sold.

Today, as ARM improves its clock speed (around 2 GHz and climbing) while staying lower cost and lower power, it pushes upward into more profitable, more demanding applications. Driving this trend is nothing more than the old fashioned pursuit of profit. Plotted as a function of GHz/Watt, the trajectory is revealing.

We’ve written extensively about ARM’s success in mobile, even as Intel tried to move into that sector, as well as the growing interest in running servers using the ARM architecture. Seeing that, the hardcore, performance-oriented HPC world may soon succumb to the lure of low-power chips with x86-like performance (the latest ARM line offers 2.5 GHz), which makes me wonder how complete ARM’s success will be–and whether or not any of the current crop of ARM licensees will want to dive into the HPC pool. Maybe it will take a startup.

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