Clearspeed updates 50 GFlops accelerator board

Bristol (UK) - Clearspeed today announced a new version of its Advance accelerator board. The device still delivers an estimated additional performance 50 GFlops, but now comes in a much smaller form factor that will allow more users and system builders to integrate the board into their workstations.

Adding more processors or even more systems to an existing workstation or server environment may not always be an ideal solution, especially if there are space constraints and power consumption issues come into play. An alternative to boost performance could be Clearspeed's Advance board, which promises to add about 50 GFlops of additional processing power to a workstation system.

The company has been shipping the first generation of the board since the fourth quarter of last year. Now, about half a year later, the company updates the Advance with much integration: Still based on a PCI-X interface, the board fits into more workstations on the market which should help to increase shipment numbers, which apparently were limited to this point. Exact shipment numbers have not been disclosed by the company.

While the original board had interfaces to attach DDR2 memory, the new board integrates 4 GB of the memory directly on the board. There is also a new version of the Xilinx FGPA (Field Programmable Gate Array) - a processor that can be reprogrammed after hardware implementation. The original board used a Virtex-2 Pro FPGA, the new board now comes with a 90 nmVirtex-4, which contains about 200,000 logic cells and is promised to offer roughly twice the performance of the Virtex-2.

At the heart of the Advance board are two 96-core CSX600 processors. Clearspeed claims that each of these processors is able to execute 25 billion 64-bit floating point operations per second. According to the company each CSX600 consumes less than 10 watts of power; an Advance board consumes less than 25 watts, Clearspeed said.

IBM is the first major system builder who agreed to use Advance boards for high-end server installations. In an announcement made today, the firm confirmed that it will build Clearspeed's device in to its System Cluster 1350 supercomputer.

The Advance's reach has been limited - the reasons may also include its price tag of about $7000 - but in a conversation with TG Daily chief executive Tom Beese reiterated the firm's intention to bring a cheaper PCI Express (PCIe) version of the board to the market. While the firm hinted to such a move already back in August of last year, Beese now says that a PCIe board may not appear too soon: "There is typically only one PCIe slot in today's PCs and the slot is naturally dedicated to PC graphics," he said. "Over time, when the number of PCIe slots increases, it is possible that we will be offering a PCIe version of the Advance board." Over time, we may be seeing also more and more enthusiasts and even mainstream applications that require enormous floating point horsepower - just like scientific calculations, for example in genomics and geology, do today.

In an updated benchmark using Intel's just released Xeon 5100 processor with Woodcrest core, Clear speed claims that the basic 2-processor Intel system equipped with an Advance board achieved a Linpack benchmark result of over 93 GFlops. The base system with two 3 GHz processors has a theoretical peak performance of 48 GFlops, according to said.