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Apr 19 2018

Back in the Ring: AMD EPYC Processors to Power Cray Supercomputers


Following a long and painful period of near-absence, the eternal No. 2 in the markets for desktop and server processors is rejoining the field of supercomputing through a collaboration with the firm that is often considered to be the originator of the discipline.

On late Wednesday evening, Seattle-based Cray Inc. and the new Californians from AMD announced that they will once more join forces in an effort to expand the pool of processors that drive Cray's high-density CS500 cluster supercomputers. Starting this summer, the boxes will be available with AMD's EPYC™ 7000 processors, which are basically the server incarnation of the company's Zen microarchitecture that also serves as a foundation for the Ryzen line of desktop and mobile CPUs. The basic idea is to give potential buyers of supercomputing equipment more freedom of choice – currently, customers are pretty much compelled to make do with various combinations of Intel and NVIDIA components.

AMD's EPYC processors first appeared on the market in summer 2017 and were generally hailed as viable alternatives to their Xeon counterparts. Offering up to 32 cores that could run 64 threads, up to 2 TB of DDR4 main memory (distributed across eight channels), and 128 PCIe lanes, they frequently outperformed Intel kit in fields like HPC and big data applications, although they showed unexpected weaknesses in more traditional areas such as database. At any rate, various demonstrations showed how a single-socket EPYC system would outpace a dual-socket Xeon server, for example in virtualization benchmarks or Linux kernel compilation.

Quite logically, these demonstrations didn't go unnoticed by Cray, whose engineers had once built their legendary Titan system – a longtime leading contender on the TOP500 list of supercomputers who debuted at No. 1 in November 2012 and today still came in fourth and fifth in the rankings of 2017 – around AMD's no less legendary Opteron CPU. A Cray CS500 cluster system equipped with EPYC processors definitely brings back memories, even more so as the supercomputer vendor promises it "has integrated and optimized the Cray Programming Environment and libraries to enhance AMD EPYC processor performance."

Unfortunately, the official press release is otherwise rather short on details. Here's what the PR department had to say about the system setup:

"The Cray CS500 cluster systems with AMD EPYC 7000 processors provide four dual-socket nodes in a 2U chassis, each node supporting two (2) PCIe Gen3 x 16 slots (200Gb network capability) and HDD/SSD options. AMD EPYC 7000 processors support up to 32 cores and eight DDR4 memory channels per socket. The CS500 line will also include a 2U chassis with one node for large memory configurations, visualization, and service node functionality to complement the compute node form factor."

For more information, please check out the Cray home page. There you will find an instructive product brochure (PDF).


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