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Europe Wants a Supercomputer Made From Smartphones

By IEEE Spectrum

May 23, 2014

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Mont-Blanc, a European public-private consortium, aims to make exaflop supercomputers based on the central-processing units (CPUs) used in smartphones and tablet computers.

The Mont-Blanc project, which was launched at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center in 2011, currently has 14 partners and is set to run through September 2016.

The researchers recently unveiled a prototype blade server that could lead to a full exascale system in the future. The new system would consume between one-fifteenth and one-thirtieth as much energy per processor as conventional high-performance computing systems. The system relies on ARM cores, which are designed to run on small smartphone and tablet batteries, and could yield more speed while consuming less power.

Although ARM-based supercomputers are a good investment for the future, Intel X86 CPUs, combined with accelerators such as graphics-processing units, will continue to dominate the Top500 list of the world's fastest computers, says European Technology Platform for High Performance Computing president Jean-Francois Lavignon.

Meanwhile, University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra notes ARM cores are not a universally agreed-upon path to exascale supercomputer architecture. For example, he says, "the Japanese exascale system, which will use commodity processors with an accelerator, will draw about 30 to 40 megawatts of power."


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