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IBM Ships Fastest CPU on Earth 410

Posted by Zonk
from the glixchip-of-tau-alpha-ceti-still-beats-it-in-lab-tests dept.
HockeyPuck writes "The 5-billion-instructions-per second Power6 processor from IBM would beat such rivals as the 3.73 gigahertz Pentium Extreme and the 2.4 gigahertz UltraSparc T2 from Sun. 'It's hard to make the average person understand just how fast this is,' said IBM Chief Technology Officer Bernard Meyerson, offering an example meant to explain his company's baby that still leaves the listener awed with the speediness of the two laggards. 'Hold your index finger out in front of your face,' Meyerson said in a telephone interview from IBM headquarters in New York. 'In less time than it would take a beam of light to travel from your knuckle to your fingertip, the new IBM chip would complete one task and start looking for the next, he said.'"
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IBM Ships Fastest CPU on Earth

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  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:44AM (#23023078) Homepage Journal
    What's a 'task'? If you think of a 'task' for a CPU to be an instruction, then any modern desktop or notebook CPU currently in production would meet Myerson's description:

    In less time than it would take a beam of light to travel from your knuckle to your fingertip, the new IBM chip would complete one task and start looking for the next, he said
    C'mon. That's horrible. Where's BadAnalogyGuy when you need him?

    • by ukatoton (999756) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:47AM (#23023102)
      Is it not obvious? Myerson is BadAnalogyGuy!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I can let one riiiiiiiiiiiiiip faster than this.
    • by backwardMechanic (959818) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:51AM (#23023162) Homepage
      I think it's a neat calculation. We've all lost track of what fast actually means for a modern CPU. I think task, in this context, would be understood by most to mean a (simple) instruction, maybe an increment for example. That we can compare light moving over such a small distance to the time it takes to complete an op is impressive. Maybe you've not stopped to actually think about it?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:51AM (#23023170)
      Better analogy; He should've said;

      'Hold your index finger out in front of your face,' Meyerson said in a telephone interview from IBM headquarters in New York. 'Ha Haw! Now you look like a retard!
    • by Rurik (113882)
      It could've worked, if it was just used as a frame of reference against the other speeds. So, the Power6 is from the knuckle to fingertip. What is the distance of the Pentium Extreme? From elbow to fingertip? Wrist to fingertip? The analogy is horrible, but it sounds amazing... until you frame the other items by the same reference and you realize that there probably isn't much difference between a knuckle and a wrist.
    • by pipatron (966506)

      What's a 'task'?

      Perhaps he meant that it could task switch in that time, which would mean handle the interrupt, saving the current register set, look up a new task from a list, load the registers, and jump. Sounds unlikely if they only have, say, 10 cycles to do it (5GHz for 2 nanoseconds), but who knows.

      • by pipatron (966506)
        Ah. I missed an important piece of information. "from your knuckle to your fingertip". I thought he was talking about from your eye to your fingertip...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Using the 'rule of thumb' (well, forefinger at least) - that light travels one foot in one nanosecond, and assuming he means the Metacarpophalangeal joint and not either of the Interphalangeal joints when he says "knuckle" - and for ease of calculation, assume that my forefinger is very roughly 2.4 inches from Metacarpophalangeal to tip. Then he's saying that the chip completes one "task" and starts another within 2.4/12 nanoseconds - 1/5th of a nanosecond. Five tasks per nanosecond is five billion tasks
    • Lyle: I'm gonna get a NAD T-770 digital decoder with a seventy-watt amp and and Burr Brown D.A.C.'s.

      Hansome Rob: [at a loss] Yeah...

      Lyle: It's a big stereo. Speakers so loud, they blow women's clothes off.

      Handsome Rob: Now you're talking!
    • C'mon. That's horrible. Where's BadAnalogyGuy when you need him?


      I think BadAnalogyGuy is lost in the libraries of congresses worth of data that will be served by this system.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:13AM (#23024038)
      The Dalai Lama is fascinated by the analogy:

      http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/04/10/world/10lama-600.jpg [nytimes.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306)

      In less time than it would take a beam of light to travel from your knuckle to your fingertip, the new IBM chip would complete one task and start looking for the next, he said

      I do believe that's a (rather poorly executed) reference to Admiral Grace Hopper [wikipedia.org] and her "nanoseconds". :-)
  • by muellerr1 (868578) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:47AM (#23023098) Homepage
    I'm glad they stopped measuring chip speed in Hertz and are now using the simpler metric fingertip-to-knuckle units.
  • by jkrise (535370) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:48AM (#23023108) Journal
    and all the water turned into steam!
  • From TFA

    Sun spokesman Mark Richardson took umbrage at the focus on speed. "It's an easier marketing message to deliver to say that faster gigahertz means a faster processor," he said. His colleague, chip expert Fadi Azhari, explained how the Mountain View firm uses a different technical trick, called multithreading, to make a computer faster but not hotter.

    Is this just sour grapes or has Mark Richardson got a valid point? I don't know enough to judge but I'm sure there's plenty of opinion her on /.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Timesprout (579035)
      IBM just hired some peeps from the Intel marketing division.
    • by Albanach (527650) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:27AM (#23023516) Homepage
      It's horses for courses. If you're serving web pages and running database queries from a well tuned database, the Sun Niagara chips are fast and very well suited. They serve the pages a little slower, but can serve many more at a time.

      If, on the other hand what you're doing is not easily threaded then IBM probably have the upper hand. Say you're doing some mathematical analysis, where you have to do everything in sequence. IBM's faster processor can complete each stage quicker, moving on to the next part and delivering the result faster than a chip with more threads but slower speed.
    • It's a shame for Sun that POWER has also supported SMT for a long time.
    • by frankie (91710) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:29AM (#23023540) Journal
      Power6 is a big change from Power4 & Power5 series. The key factor is: it gains clock and SMT at the expense of OoOE. In-order execution means its performance is deeply dependent on perfectly tuned compilers.

      Other than the lack of out-of-order, on paper it looks pretty strong. Dual core, lots of bandwidth, up to 7 IPC (5 in one thread, 2 in the other), big GHz, voltage & frequency slewing, and yes it has AltiVec.

      p.s. No, it would not be good for Macs. POWER chips are all made for big iron.
  • It's a ploy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by imstanny (722685) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:49AM (#23023118)
    Too bad Apple no longer uses IBM processors, this would've been a great marketing scheme for Steve Jobs.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:55AM (#23023202)
      Don't be silly.

      Apple doesn't care about marketing, they are only interested in making quality product.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Too bad Apple no longer uses IBM processors, this would've been a great marketing scheme for Steve Jobs.


      Exactly.

      Imagine, you could compute at an insanely great speed while frying eggs on your Powerbook!

    • by beelsebob (529313)
      Not really, Apple never used the POWER line of processors. The G5 was derived from a POWER4, but it was quite far removed. Secondly, it was in fact the G5's roots in a heavy handed server chip that meant it never got small and cool enough to run in a laptop.
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:50AM (#23023150) Journal
    'It's hard to make the average person understand just how fast this is,' said IBM Chief Technology Officer Bernard Meyerson, offering an example meant to explain his company's baby that still leaves the listener awed with the speediness of the two laggards.

    Made me think of a National Lampoon Radio Hour (SNL before it was on TV) skit about the George Foreman-Muhammed Ali fight. Foreman (John Belushi IIRC) talking about Ali:

    "He so fast he can turn off the light and be in bed before the room get dark!"
  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:51AM (#23023164)
    ob disc: I work at sun (but not ON those chips).

    I write management software that lets admins turn on/off/standby (etc) the state of the various 'cpus' (threads, as sun calls them). there are 128 and 256 cpus in a regular 2u..4u style rackmount box. these are 'simple' air cooled systems with fans blowing over the whole U-style chassis and over the passive cpu heatsinks. nothing 'scary' at all, really.

    it is pretty wild to be able to do the equiv of 'show cpu' and have an ascii output scroll 64, 128 and even 256 times; one for each 'cool thread' which is a real actual processor element.

    the down side is that this threading stuff does not automatically get you faster speed on a SINGLE non-threaded traditional task. as I understand it, these T-series sun boxes are meant to process a lot of transactions (think webservers) and not so much number crunching.

    how do you define 'fastest chip'? well, one thing is for sure, you do NOT simply go by 'gigahertz' alone. that's really an oversimplification.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Whether a faster clock speed or more cores will work in for any given application, is, of course, application dependent.

      If the work you wish to do can be parallelized -- that is, broken into smaller pieces and then either reassembled when all the pieces are complete or, even, better, no assembly required -- and, more importanlty, your application is written to take advantage of parallelization then you will most certainly benefit from a CPU that can handle simultaneous threads.

      OTOH, if your tasks can't be p
    • by s_p_oneil (795792) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:33AM (#23023604) Homepage
      Fortunately, Java is a very thread-friendly language. I'm sure I could think of a way to use those 256 processors. ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ratboy666 (104074)
      Um... they are NOT all processing elements

      The T2000 (for example) has one die clocked at 1.2 or 1.4 Ghz. On that die are 8 processor cores. Each of these has 4 CMT threads (sort of what Intel used to call hyper-threading). 32 "virtual" cpus, 2U form factor. $6,995 base

      The M-series, lets take the M5000 is built by Fujitsu. That has 8 processing elements, each clocked at 2.1 Ghz, with each dual-core. 16 "virtual" cpus. $47,000 base. 10U form factor.

      The 5220 has 8 cores, 8 CMT per core, for 64 virtual cpus, 1.
  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @07:51AM (#23023166) Homepage
    ... it will be in a washing machine controller.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Timesprout (579035)
      Running Vista with SP 236, the one with extra spin.
    • by Yetihehe (971185)
      I, for one, welcome our 5ghz dishwashing overlords with some dirty dishes.
  • Does it have a Altivec unit ?
    If it doesn't - it's just a useless overclocked G3 - Mac OS X Leopard will not run on it.
    If it does have Altivec - anyone knows if it uses the same socket as the G5 ?
    • by simong (32944)
      Power6 is designed for servers so it's not likely. Had they been a year earlier to market we might have still not been running Windows on our G6 Powerbooks.
  • obscured objectives (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hojima (1228978)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most of the algorithms for scientific simulations run just as well on parallel processors? If this is the case, it makes more sense to have cheaper processors (both to manufacture and run) so that the cap on the IPS is raised just as well (the cap being the ratio of the amount of funds an organization can allocate to these emulators versus the cost of the emulators). Though I'm no computer expert, it seems that making one sequential processor run faster isn't as efficient
    • by sirwired (27582) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:13AM (#23023366)
      There are indeed many algorithms that run well in a parallelized environment. IBM even makes the world's fastest supercomputers that take advantage of this fact.

      However, there are many other tasks fit for computers that do not parallelize well. In addition, writing massively parallelized software is often quite HARD. It is far easier to design software for a single CPU running very quickly, than a whole boatload of CPU's running slower. There have in fact been quite a few articles in CS journals lately wondering how on earth software is going to be written for all these new bunch-o-cores CPUs. While it can be done, it is tedious, expensive, and error-prone for all but the most trivial tasks.

      SirWired
  • For multi-core do you have to hold as many fingers up as there are cores to understand the speed over multiple cores?
  • That would only be true if the CPU is able to retire a sustained average of one instruction per clock cycle. SFGate's article makes a raw comparison between chips with different number of cores, threads and other factors, considering only GHz...
    • by imgod2u (812837)
      Most if not all modern microprocessors are quite capable of sustaining more than one instruction/cycle assuming you're not doing something that is completely memory-bound. Hell, even silverthrone is 3-way superscalar (albeit in-order).
  • by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:20AM (#23023436)
    5 billion THEORICAL instructions per second just mean nothing.

    Anyway, the DSP I'm working on, the TI C6416 (1GHz), claims up to 8 billion instructions/s (5 to 6 can be realistically obtained).
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm working on a much faster multi-core cheap based on a new concept of extreme simplify all code using SISC instructions (aka Single Instruction Set Computer) and I'm reaching several tens of billion NOP's per core.

      When I power off the system it can sustain the proposed performance for a period of eternity seconds - best instructions per watt ratio ever found.

      PS: Still trying to design an operating system for this architecture that can produce end results different than Windows on x86.
  • Average Person? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreemernj (859414) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:20AM (#23023440) Homepage Journal

    It's hard to make the average person understand just how fast this is
    It's hard to make the average person understand that the CPU isn't the entire box under their desk. Don't even bother with trying to explain this. The average person doesn't want to know.
  • How many Libraries of Congress can it index per fortnight?
  • From the article, "Then why don't Intel and Sun just crank up the speed? Well, just as is the case with cars, the faster chips run, the hotter they get, and IBM has created water-cooling systems akin to the radiators in cars to keep its processors from overheating. Not doing so, Meyerson quipped, "results in setting fire to the user, which is bad.""

    This part of the article made me laugh. Sick sense of humor? But, I would formally like to thank IBM for caring about setting me on fire or not.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:46AM (#23023726) Homepage Journal
    Apple's development tools continue to generate binaries that support both Intel and PowerPC, and they continue to support the operating system on both architectures, so why not? Yes, I know, there's a difference between POWER and PowerPC, but it's not a big difference -- after all, you run the same version of Linux on an IBM pSeries that you do on a Power Mac.

    Apple would have buying leverage against both IBM and Intel by being able to shift portions of their manufacturing from one architecture to another with each model. And they'd have access to some of the fastest processors on earth. Can you imagine one of these things powering Photoshop, or even rendering the next Pixar movie?
  • The "speed" of a single CPU is a commercially useless measure of performance. We care about performance per dollar, not performance per CPU. And that dollar includes the cost of of energy required to operate the CPU associated cooling.
  • by downix (84795) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @08:52AM (#23023798) Homepage
    I always said rating CPU's in Hertz is like rating engines by cubic inches. Bigger *can* get more performance, but it's no guarantee. The compression, carbeuration, transmission, fuel flow, exhaust, all add up to final performance, same as cycles per instruction, the amount of work each instruction can do, the memory bandwidth and the IO system all add up to system performance in a computer.
    • by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:16AM (#23024084) Homepage Journal
      I've compared CPU clock frequency to the RPM in engines. Both of them measure the number of basic operation cycles per unit time. However, what exactly happens in a cycle is left open. When other things are equal, more RPM/GHz means higher performance. In practice, it's rare to find such accurate comparisons, due to the multitude of those other factors.
  • by slyborg (524607) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:08AM (#23023974)
    ...but it's not my index finger....

  • by MECC (8478) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:12AM (#23024030)

    IBM has created water-cooling systems akin to the radiators in cars to keep its processors from overheating. Not doing so, Meyerson quipped, "results in setting fire to the user, which is bad."

    He's never had a help desk job....

  • by AttillaTheNun (618721) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:15AM (#23024072)
    'Hold your index finger out in front of your face,'

    and I thought he was going to finish that with "and it goes THIS fast!!!", as he waves his finger across his face as fast as he can.

    That's how my brother and I used to measure seconds when we were 5 years old. Accurate to within 500% (your mileage may vary).

  • by helicologic (845077) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:41AM (#23024452)
    It's very useful to remember that the speed of light is about a billion feet per second, or a foot in a billionth of a second. He was just looking for a measure that is 1/5 of a foot long.

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