Skip to main content

Indiana University's AMD-Based Cray Supercomputer Postponed to Wait for Nvidia's Next-Gen GPUs

(Image credit: Indiana University)

Indiana University has purchased a new Cray supercomputer called the Big Red 200. Assembly is currently in progress, and whilst it could be completed on a much shorter timeframe, the university has decided to postpone the GPU installation until summer in order to get access to Nvidia's next-generation hardware, splitting the assembly up into two phases.

The exact details surrounding the next-generation hardware are scarce. Nevertheless, Brad Wheeler told The Next Platform that although the original plan was to fit the Big Red 200 with Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs, a last minute opportunity gave them the chance to postpone the GPU installation and opt for the next-generation GPUs -- presumably the Tesla GPUs stemming from the upcoming Ampere microarchitecture.

This alternate plan is because the new GPUs are expected to offer 70-75% improvement in performance over the current-generation hardware, as noted by The Next Platform, the Volta-based V100 GPUs that would have been installed otherwise. For the IU Big Red 200 supercomputer, it means that the performance will still jump from the original predicted 5.9 petaflops to 8 petaflops with fewer GPUs. 

The Big Red 200 succeeds the Big Red 2 installed in 2013. The new supercomputer is a Cray Shasta machine and is being built using 1,344 AMD Epyc 7742 processors. With 64 cores per CPU, the supercomputer will have a total of 86,000 cores and 172,000 threads to play with. This makes it one of the smaller supercomputers based on the Cray Shasta platform, as the UK Research and Innovation's Archer 2 system packs a significantly bigger punch. The GPU count is expected to be 256 units. Nevertheless, it will be the first Cray Shasta supercomputer in operation.

Exactly when the GPUs will be available or announced remains a mystery, but Indiana University has indicated that 256 Tensor Core GPUs will be installed in the fall. Given that timeframe and Nvidia announcing GPUs at GTC conferences in the past, it's likely we'll be see details of the Ampere architecture revealed at GTC during Nvidia's keynote on March 23.

  • spongiemaster
    Wow, this might be the first anti-click bait headline I've seen in years. No one cares about a super computer in Indiana. The only reason this made news is because the head of the project said they decided to build this system in stages because waiting for Ampere allowed them to use fewer GPU's and still have a faster system because the new GPU's were up to 75% faster than last gen. I'm sure this guy didn't pull this number from an Nvidia marketing slide and almost certainly has had hands on testing when deciding what to use.

    Granted, this must be compute tasks which doesn't translate to gaming, but with that much of an improvement, the 50% rumor in gaming looks very attainable.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    spongiemaster said:
    Wow, this might be the first anti-click bait headline I've seen in years. No one cares about a super computer in Indiana.

    Granted, this must be compute tasks which doesn't translate to gaming, but with that much of an improvement, the 50% rumor in gaming looks very attainable.
    Ya know...not everything that is related to the word "computer" is gaming related.
    They are sometimes used for other things. Even parts of "computer things" that are ostensibly for "games".

    A decade ago:
    https://phys.org/news/2010-12-air-playstation-3s-supercomputer.html
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    USAFRet said:
    Ya know...not everything that is related to the word "computer" is gaming related.
    They are sometimes used for other things. Even parts of "computer things" that are ostensibly for "games".

    A decade ago:
    https://phys.org/news/2010-12-air-playstation-3s-supercomputer.html
    Did you read my post, or were you talking to some other unknown person?
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    spongiemaster said:
    Granted, this must be compute tasks which doesn't translate to gaming, but with that much of an improvement, the 50% rumor in gaming looks very attainable.
    Sure, but there's no telling whether they will have a 50% price hike to go along with it. : P

    Going by product names alone, the RTX 20-series cards were around "50% faster" than their similarly-named GTX 10-series predecessors at launch. However, in reality, the cards names were simply shifted up to the next higher tier to disguise what were actually far-smaller performance gains at any given price level.

    It was similar with AMD's RX 5000 series cards, though at least there they added an extra digit to help differentiate the two naming conventions (but oddly stuck with the same first number) An RX 5700 may be twice as fast as an RX 570, but it also launched for double the price. Due to the move to the the 7nm manufacturing process though, the graphics chip of a 5700 or 5700 XT isn't actually much larger than that used by an RX 570 or 580.

    Comparing cards using the full processors, an RX 580 at 232mm to a 5700 XT at 251mm, AMD saw around an 85% performance uplift relative to the size of the graphics chip. The launch price of the card was around 75% higher than that of the 8GB RX 580 launched over 2-years prior though, so not much was really gained in terms of price to performance.

    It sounds like Nvidia will be moving to a new process node soon as well, so there could very well be large performance gains for chips of a given size, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be a substantial increase in performance at a given price level.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    cryoburner said:
    It was similar with AMD's RX 5000 series cards ... An RX 5700 may be twice as fast as an RX 570, but it also launched for double the price.
    AMD more consistently resorts to price-cutting, towards the end of a product's life cycle. Therefore, I think we haven't seen the full price/performance benefit of Navi that AMD is prepared to offer.

    I'd wager their pricing was more dictated by 7 nm supply constraints than anything else.
    Reply
  • prtskg
    bit_user said:
    AMD more consistently resorts to price-cutting, towards the end of a product's life cycle. Therefore, I think we haven't seen the full price/performance benefit of Navi that AMD is prepared to offer.

    I'd wager their pricing was more dictated by 7 nm supply constraints than anything else.
    AMD would also like to sell as many 14nm gpus as possible to meet wafer supply agreements. So at present polaris should 'look' cheaper than Navi
    Reply
  • bit_user
    prtskg said:
    AMD would also like to sell as many 14nm gpus as possible to meet wafer supply agreements. So at present polaris should 'look' cheaper than Navi
    You think they're still manufacturing new Polaris GPUs? I don't know about that. We definitely know they got caught with an oversupply, after the crypto bust. I think that's the main reason for the aggressive price-cutting.

    Anyway, I thought they had some escape clauses on the wafer-supply agreement, like for the situation where Glo Fo cancelled their 7 nm node.
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    cryoburner said:
    Sure, but there's no telling whether they will have a 50% price hike to go along with it. : P

    Going by product names alone, the RTX 20-series cards were around "50% faster" than their similarly-named GTX 10-series predecessors at launch. However, in reality, the cards names were simply shifted up to the next higher tier to disguise what were actually far-smaller performance gains at any given price level.

    It was similar with AMD's RX 5000 series cards, though at least there they added an extra digit to help differentiate the two naming conventions (but oddly stuck with the same first number) An RX 5700 may be twice as fast as an RX 570, but it also launched for double the price. Due to the move to the the 7nm manufacturing process though, the graphics chip of a 5700 or 5700 XT isn't actually much larger than that used by an RX 570 or 580.

    Comparing cards using the full processors, an RX 580 at 232mm to a 5700 XT at 251mm, AMD saw around an 85% performance uplift relative to the size of the graphics chip. The launch price of the card was around 75% higher than that of the 8GB RX 580 launched over 2-years prior though, so not much was really gained in terms of price to performance.

    It sounds like Nvidia will be moving to a new process node soon as well, so there could very well be large performance gains for chips of a given size, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be a substantial increase in performance at a given price level.


    For the 1080 and 1080ti moving to turing saw up to 50% improvement. On average it was half that, about 25%, a bit more when moving to 4k, maybe 30-35%. The rumors indicate Ampere could be up to 75% faster with an average around 50%. That should be with much smaller dies. The 2080ti is a massive 754mm die. It would be shocking to see Nvidia release a 7nm die of that size out of the gate in the consumer space. If they can release a 550-600mm die that beats a 2080ti by 50% on average with significantly improved ray tracing, along with lower power requirements, that would be very impressive.

    I would not expect to see any increased MSRP's for Ampere. I wouldn't be surprised if the 3080Ti saw a price drop to $999. Yes, I know that was the official msrp of the 2080ti, but with the founders edition at $1200, no card ever got close to $1000. Nvidia pushed the prices too high with Turing and hurt their bottom line, by their own admission, they aren't going to go any higher.

    Nvidia sets the market. Recently, AMD seems content to sell their cards slightly lower than Nvidia's when the rasterized performance is equal with everything else ignored. That's not going to work when Ampere hits the market where all indications now are that ray tracing performance will be usable at least down to the mid range and maybe lower. If the 3070 is 30-40+% faster than a 2070 with very good raytracing performance at the $500 price point, no refresh of the 5700XT is going to get it in the ballpark, along with no ray tracing. The price is going to have to plummet.

    Edit: why would adding the word "with" to my post require moderator approval?
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    bit_user said:
    AMD more consistently resorts to price-cutting, towards the end of a product's life cycle. Therefore, I think we haven't seen the full price/performance benefit of Navi that AMD is prepared to offer.

    I'd wager their pricing was more dictated by 7 nm supply constraints than anything else.
    I suspect that too. They probably don't want to cut into their CPU production, hence the relatively mediocre performance gains relative to the price of these cards at launch. I wouldn't be surprised to see them significantly discounted by the end of the year in response to Nvidia's next generation of hardware though. They were mainly just brought up as an example of big performance gains to hardware not necessarily translating to big gains in value.

    spongiemaster said:
    For the 1080 and 1080ti moving to turing saw up to 50% improvement. On average it was half that, about 25%, a bit more when moving to 4k, maybe 30-35%.
    Yep, though some of that is down to the graphics hardware being limited by CPU performance in many games, hence why 4K shows greater improvements. And some of the other parts saw a bit larger relative performance gains compared to their similarly-named (but not similarly-priced) predecessors. The report where that rumor comes from was also suggesting "up to 50% more performance" though, not "50% on average". So, it sounds like a similar scenario, though perhaps without shifting around model names further to make it happen. Maybe performance will be around 50% better in some games, but the average will probably be lower than that.

    And it's unknown how much or how little that 75% performance gain at certain compute tasks in a supercomputer might translate to gaming performance. We can't even be sure that these Tesla GPUs they will be using will even have corresponding equivalents in the consumer market. The compute gains mentioned here may also come primarily from additional Tensor cores or something. With Tensor cores tied to RT performance in the 20-series cards, if they were doubled for example, that might translate to a big improvement in raytracing performance. If the impact of enabling RT effects was cut in half, that could make them a lot more usable. It's very possible that "up to 50% more performance" is referring to performance in certain games where RT is enabled, in which case the RT performance gains might be accounting for a good chunk of that uplift. If a game gets 100fps with RT disabled, and only 50fps with RT enabled on a current card, but its successor can push 75fps with RT enabled, that's a 50% performance uplift right there, even if the gains in non-RT games might be minimal. I do suspect RT effects will likely become the norm in the coming years though, so that's likely to be very relevant down the line.

    In any case, it sounds like Nvidia will be announcing their next GPU architecture soon, so more details should be available before long. I suspect a lot of marketing may cloud how the cards will actually perform until they eventually come out and can be tested though, perhaps half a year or more from now.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    spongiemaster said:
    If the 3070 is 30-40+% faster than a 2070 with very good raytracing performance at the $500 price point, no refresh of the 5700XT is going to get it in the ballpark, along with no ray tracing. The price is going to have to plummet.
    I agree that the existing 5000-series pricing is likely to come down, though AMD's "Big Navi" cards will be coming as well, purportedly with up to double the graphics cores, which should fill in to cover those higher price points. And since it sounds like their RDNA2 architecture will likely have some form of raytracing support as well, they will probably have that $400+ range covered with competitive options. Nvidia will undoubtedly pull ahead on efficiency though, seeing as AMD's current 7nm cards are only just matching Nvidia's 12nm options. That may give Nvidia more room to offer additional performance at the extreme high-end.
    Reply