AMD Leads Formula 1 Supercomputer Championship

Enstone (UK) - Appro said it has started with the installation of a new AMD Barcelona B3-based supercomputer at the Renault F1 HQ in Enstone. Appro won the contract in early March, just before the new racing season started: The system not only highlights the increasing investments in computer design and simulation in Formula 1, but also stresses the rivalry between AMD and Intel in this small but very prestigious market segment.

Formula 1 is a serious and very cash-heavy business. Sports car manufacturers such as Ferrari as well as mainstream companies such as BMW, Renault or Toyota leverage their successes in this racing series to transfer technology and enthusiasm into their commercial lineup. The top teams invest several hundred millions of dollars per season to be able to stay on top. Lots of that money goes into the design and development of racecars that are being fine-tuned for each racetrack. Supercomputers are increasingly important for teams as racecars are fine tuned for each racetrack and more simulations are likely to result in a better setup of a car.

The ING Renault F1 Team recently decided to buy a 36 TFlops system consisting of 1024 sockets (Socket 1207+) for AMD quad-core Opteron processors, resulting in 4096 K10 cores being deployed. Overall, Renault acquired eight Racks, each with 128 Opteron processors and 4.4 TB memory. The Appro racks are connected via Infiniband and Ethernet Management fabrics, yielding in a bandwidth of 8 GB/s. The installation is expected to be completed by June 2008.

Initial information available suggests that Renault will use the supercomputer for CFD simulations as well as the design of its R29 race car for the 2009 season - which sounds like good timing, as FIA's rules and regulations for 2009 will bring massive aerodynamic changes. Given the fact that Renault tanked at the start of current season, it is easy to see that they need every FLOPS to help them prepare for the next season. However, this supercomputer will also benefit Renault-Nissan, which is developing Formula Renault and Formula Nissan cars for junior racing leagues.

From a technology view, it is interesting to note that AMD and Intel are competing in F1 as well, in an effort to showcase their brands in what, hopefully, will be successful teams. AMD has signed up as technology partner for the Scuderia Ferrari several years ago, while Intel is a key sponsor and technology partner for the BMW Sauber F1 and Panasonic Toyota Racing teams.

In terms of supercomputer processing power, this is the current ranking:

Formula 1 Supercomputer Championship 2008 (by TFLOPS):

ING Renault F1 Team: Appro Xtreme-X2, 1024 sockets, 4096 cores (AMD QC Opteron)
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro: Acer/IBM/Racksaver, 1000+ processor sockets (upgrading to QC Opteron)
BMW Sauber F1 Team: Dell, Albert2, 512 sockets, 2048 cores (Intel Xeon)
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: Silicon Graphics Altix, 512 Sockets, 1024 cores (Intel Itanium 2)
Red Bull Renault: IBM, 512 sockets, 1024 core (upgrading to AMD QC Opteron)
Panasonic Toyota F1 Team: Fujitsu, 320 Sockets, 640 cores (Intel Itanium 2)
AT&T WilliamsF1 Toyota: Lenovo Unnamed, 332 Sockets, 664 cores (Intel Xeon 5100)
Honda F1 Racing: SGI Altix ICE, unknown number of socket/cores, water-cooled Quad-Core Intel Xeon
Scuderia Torro Rosso Ferrari: N/A (uses Red Bull infrastructure)
Super Aguri Honda: N/A (uses Honda F1 infrastructure)
Force India Ferrari: Rental system (unknown specifications)

Overall, AMD's Opteron leads Intel's Xeon, followed by Intel's Itanium 2 processors:
AMD: 2560 Sockets, 9216 cores
Intel: 1826 Sockets, 4931 cores

Formula 1 Points Championship (after Bahrain GP)

1. Intel 76 points (30+28+10+8)
2. AMD 41 points (6+29+4+2)

If you are looking simply at the number of cores, Intel is in a disadvantage, since Itanium 2 processors are still used by some teams. The 2009 Supercomputer championship, however, could be very interesting, since Intel will roll out its Intel Nehalem architecture. At the same time, AMD will the Shanghai and the Montreal 8-core, all using today's socket, which means that interested teams might end up with their 1024 or 512 socket system having 4096 or 8192 cores - without a change in infrastructure.

In marketing terms, Intel has the edge right now. Intel has more teams and since Renault has had a disappointing year so far, AMD is behind. But, F1 is known for the fact that every millisecond counts and could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. So expect further investments in this environment.

Now, if Nvidia's Tesla architecture will be making some progress in this business, both Intel and AMD could see a completely different challenge. We will be following this supercomputing championship. Stay tuned.