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After more than two years of pushing its scientific computing efforts, Nvidia’s graphics processors will be offered as an option in the newest line of Cray desktop supercomputers. The chipmaker plans to announce next week that its Tesla chips can be used in the $25,000 Cray desktop supercomputer, according to Nvidia spokesperson Andrew Humber. He said Nvidia has been in talks with Cray ever since the chipmaker announced its Tesla line of graphics processors in 2007, but that this is the first deal the two companies have inked.
The Cray CX1 computer launched today, with specs that include either 32 or 64 Intel cores and 4 terabytes of internal storage. The new machine, which runs a new version of Microsoft Windows, is a testament to both the demand for and the democratization of computing power. Indeed, people who earlier might have turned to grids or supercomputers for their problems are building powerful desktops with accelerator chips, while less scientifically minded folks, such as traders or product designers, who want to render things in 3-D are seeking more processing power.
Cray’s CX1 is the smallest supercomputer the venerable firm has ever built, but its downmarket shift is a response to both the needs of the market and the presence of accelerator chips trying to muscle in on its scientific computing turf in the high and low end. Chips such as IBM’s cell processor or GPUs from AMD or Nvidia are being dolled up with programming tools to take on scientific computing. The multiple cores in the Cell chip and GPUs are designed to parallelize tasks and execute them faster than a general purpose CPU, like the x86 processors offered by Intel.
At the desktop level, Nvidia has been touting stories such as the €4,000 (about $5,700 today) “supercomputer” built by scientists at the University of Antwerp creating 3-D images of internal organs that uses GPUs. With the CX1, Cray is acknowledging that trend and trying to ride it.
The effort to broaden its market comes as Cray sees it dominance in the supercomputing world waning. The top supercomputer in the world runs on a combined x86 and Cell processors. In the most recent list of the Top 500 supercomputers, Cray only made 16 of the machines for a 3.2 percent share of the fastest computers in the world. That’s quite a decline from when the Top 500 organization started tracking the data 15 years ago and Cray made 205 systems on the list. So Cray is thinking small to expand its market as the market demands more computing power.