Electronic Design

More Cores, Performance Define This Year's Best

High-performance computing saw a major jump in performance this year with the appearance of dual quad-core platforms. This technology provides an ideal format for parallel processing and virtual-machine support.

This year’s top-of-the-line system is based on Intel’s Xeon 3-GHz, 64-bit X5365 quad-core processor. A pair can be found on Intel’s S5000XVN motherboard (Fig. 1). The Xeon employs Intel’s latest Virtualization Technology, which reduces system overhead for virtualmachine management (VMM) hypervisors like Xen or VmWare. Software platforms such as these are more common on workstations, especially with developers.

The Xeon supports up to eight fully buffered dual-inline memory modules (DIMMs) with a capacity of 64 Gbytes at a bandwidth of 21 Gbytes/s using a 1.33-GHz system bus. Each chip also has 8 Mbytes of L2 cache. The S5000XVN motherboard, which uses the 5000X chip set, has x4, x8, and x16 PCI Express slots plus a pair of PCI-X slots. An activation key enables optional sixport SATA/SAS RAID support.

The S5000XVN can handle a host of operating systems and hypervisors, but it requires applications to take advantage of the multicore power. One way designers can do this is to utilize Intel’s Thread Building Blocks (TBB), which spawn a thread for each core that serves a job queue to handle array- and stream-oriented applications.

TBB has even moved into the opensource realm, now running on Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris operating systems. Check out James Reinders’ book, Intel Threading Building Blocks, to see how it works.

Another approach is to deliver dataflow-like programming tools, as in National Instruments’ LabVIEW. Lab- VIEW 8.5 brings improved multicore support and essentially hides the complexity of a multicore target behind an easy-to-use graphical environment.

AMD’s FireGL 8650 PCI Express graphics adapter fills the S5000XVN’s x16 PCI Express videoadapter slot. It can handle large-screen HDTVs like Viewsonic’s 37-in. N3752w as well as high-resolution displays up to 9 Mpixels. This size and resolution are necessary for high-end CAD and medical applications.

This top-end solution packs 1 Gbyte of memory with 320 shading processor units. Also, it can drive a pair of DVI outputs. The 512-bit ring bus controller has a bandwidth of 108 Gbytes/s.

Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.11 utilizes perpendicular- magnetic-recording (PMR) technology to pack 1 Tbyte of data onto four platters in a 3.5-in. hard drive (Fig. 2). The drive has a 32-Mbyte cache and is available with an ATA or 3-Gbit/s Serial ATA (SATA) interface. It also has a sustained data rate of 105 Mbits/s.

High-performance workstations normally use multiple drives in a paired RAID 1 configuration or, more often, in a RAID 5 configuration. The 7200.11 drive incorporates a host of features, such as adaptive flying height on the read/write heads or the SoftSonic technology to eliminate operational noise. Seagate’s CleanSweep technology addresses drive calibration.

Lite-On’s 2x LH-2B1S Blu-ray triple writer handles 25-Gbyte Blu-ray media at 2X speeds in addition to DVD and CD media (Fig. 3). The need for speed warrants its SATA interface. Its high capacity makes it ideal for backup as well as playback.

Check out the system built with these and other components in "Best Computer of 2007".

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