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Atom Processors Set New Record For Power-Efficient Sorting 92

schliz writes "German researchers have set a new record for energy efficient data sorting with a system based on netbook processors and Solid State Disks. The system, dubbed EcoSort, more than tripled the power efficiency of former record holders, leading one of its developers to claim: 'In the long run, many small, power-efficient and cooperating systems are going to replace the so far used, heavy weighted ones.' Records were defined by 'Sort Benchmark,' which was created by missing Microsoft scientist Jim Gray and was now managed by representatives of companies like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft."
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Atom Processors Set New Record For Power-Efficient Sorting

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  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm ... minus herbivore> on Monday March 29, 2010 @05:24AM (#31654652) Journal
    As electricity and cooling bills get ever higher being more frugal with the power will count more and more on the bottom line. Congrats to the team on a new record!
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by geegel ( 1587009 )

      Actually this is less about bills and more about battery life.

      This is the Achille's heel when it comes to mobile computing and until more of these breakthroughs are made it will be the one, most important, limiting factor.

      • Uhhh...when are you gonna be doing record sorts on a mobile device? To me it is just nice that we have finally gotten off the "MOAR POWERZ!" bullshit and you can actually choose between a fire breathing monster, and ultra lower power machine, or anything in between. My new AMD 925 quad uses less power than my old P4 single core, and for when I just want to do general web surfing or A/V enjoyment (like now) this AMD Sempron I'm typing on is so whisper quiet and cool it doesn't bother me to have it running in

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't SSDs somewhat limited in the number of read/write actions they can perform? Specifically, the ability to adequately make a distinction between a 1 and a 0 diminishes with the number of overwrites of a particular section of disk.

      I'm sure I could phrase this better... I've got to admit I don't know much about low-level hard disk theory. But I do recall seeing something regarding researchers trying to extend the life of SSDs, since their life is not nearly as long as s
      • by White Flame ( 1074973 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:16AM (#31655174)

        Short answer: No.

        Long answer: They sort of used to be, but nowadays the lifecycles and capacities are large enough such that you could keep the SSD's interface saturated with writes for 5-10 years straight before you start to encroach on their conservatively rated write cycle life expectancy.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:41AM (#31655274)

          It's easy for some marketing fools to say, "Oh, for sure, it'll last 5 to 10 years." It's easy for them to print those claims on the product packaging, too. But marketing claims don't, of course, have any real impact on the lifespan of a product.

          We heard the same claims for CD-Rs years back. They'd last 99 years, we'd often hear. Now, less than 10 years later, people who backed up data onto CD-Rs are running into problems. Even when storing the burned CD-Rs properly, they have nevertheless developed unrecoverable read errors because they've degraded many times faster than expected.

          Frankly, we can't say that these SSD drives will last 5-10 years straight, while saturated, especially while they really haven't been around for that long. Unless you've actually taken a drive and had it perform writes continuously for a decade, and can demonstratively provide that the drives will last that long before performance degrades, we have to assume the worst.

          • So lets assume it takes 3 years of proper use(massive torrenting of porn and deleting it afterwards) to reach the performance of a normal slow HD?

            • I have nothing to add to the debate, but I love that you define proper SSD use as "(massive torrenting of porn and deleting it afterwards)".
              Kudos, good sir.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            I think we can safely say that you can saturate it for a couple years, as I imagine someone has done that and not had any issues.

            Though I haven't seen the data, I think if someone consistently showed SSDs dying at a year of saturation (which is far more than you will usually have) it would make news.

            • by Anpheus ( 908711 )

              The bigger problem is write fragmentation. I have a one year old SSD (Intel X25-M, first generation) with about 15 gigabytes of writes per day and earlier this year I had to do a secure wipe on it to reset the fragmentation tables. With TRIM support this problem should go away.

              I would really like to know when RAID controllers start supporting TRIM though, and when it'll be possible to hook up a readzilla/logzilla SSD like Sun has to a server to serve as a large second level cache and non-volatile write log.

          • Frankly, we can't say that these SSD drives will last 5-10 years straight

            Frankly, we can't say anything about many things. If the risk of a gadget failing withing 5-10 years is unbearable, buy insurance against it.

            • Frankly, we can say anything about anything... and some of us would mean everything we say.

              That does not, however, mean we know what the hell we are talking about.

          • This is probably true, but it will most likely outlast most hard disks.

            But it is also true that many hard disks die after a couple of years average now, sometimes less...especially those that come in the pre-built retail computer systems. In some cases if you try to use the hard disk manufacturers warranty directly, they will tell you no and suggest you call system manufacturer that sold it to you (makes me wonder if the drives are refurbs or seconds, or perhaps they were spec'd out to be cheaper models),

          • You have very valid concerns over the life of solid state media, and in general I share your cynicism concerning marketing claims, however the core technology for solid state drives is a lot older than the drives themselves. Flash memory and associated wear out aren't brand new problems, and the claims for SSD life aren't that outrageous given current flash memory tech. At least clueful people are in the habit of not trusting single drives for storage of data they care about...
          • > Unless you've actually taken a drive and had it perform writes continuously for a decade

            Not true at all. That's why people does statistical modeling. The failure rate usually follows a exponential distribution, so you could calibrate their behavior in a fraction of time by analyzing a big set of disks.

        • by afidel ( 530433 )
          This is definitely NOT true for MLC cells, for the very largest SLC arrays it might be true (Intel x-25e 64GB at max write rate would last ~3 years at rated cell life). I guess it really depends on your usage pattern.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      First off, I apologize for the off-topic post in advance. I couldn't find any contact links to report this.

      The Firehose has been Spam botted. Only 3 of the current 20 or so submissions are actually story submissions, the rest are spam/adverts for everything from acai berry shit to resorts in Goa. Spam posts about every 3 mins now...

      And whats with all the wall-of-text repeat troll posts? They are in pretty much every story thread these days.

      Could someone that knows how, or who, to contact about this (the spa

    • If you click to the link, and click on the Ecosort link, it links to a paper [] by the people that put the system together. It gives much more details about their system including this about their hardware decisions:

      The system is based on a Zotac IONITX-A board, equipped with an Atom 330. This processor consumes more than three times the power of an N270 (8 W TDP) but supports two cores and four hardware threads. The main advantage of this system is that its nVidia Ion chipset provides four SATA ports that can handle the SSD transfers at full speed. Moreover, it allows two DIMMs for a total of 4 GiB of RAM. The 64 bit logical address space is less prone to fragmentation, which we experienced on the 32-bit Atom N270.

      Which really shows that they got a 3 times improvement by going with sub-optimal choices because that's all that was available. If there existed a two or 4 core N270 64 bit that had the necessary RAM and SATA interfaces the results would have been even better. Just think if there

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @05:37AM (#31654712)

    Good to see that Jim's work lives on...meanwhile, this is about all you get in the article:

    "EcoSort set records in the Joule category, which measured the amount of energy required to sort either 10GB, 100GB or 1TB of records.

    It reached a maximum efficiency of 36,400 records sorted per joule for 100GB of data, using an Intel Atom 330 processor, 4GB of RAM, and four 256GB SSDs by flash vendor Super Talent Technology.

    In 2009, a team from the University of Melbourne had the 100GB record of 11,600 records sorted per joule using the OzSort system, which comprised a 2.6GHz AMD processor, 4GB of RAM, seven 160GB 7200 RPM SATA hard disks and a Linux operating System."

    Sure, this is the way things are going, but until prices come down we won't be seeing SSDs replacing HDDs; work fine for the desktop, tho'

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jmak ( 409787 )

      More details are here []. Looks like it's a tweaked merge-sort.

    • by dingen ( 958134 )

      until prices come down we won't be seeing SSDs replacing HDDs

      SSDs wont be as cheap per GB as HDDs for years and years, but that doesn't mean SSDs dont have their application already today. A 80 GB SSD is already quite affordable and holds enough data to be useful for a lot of people. And of course there's always the option to put your large data on HDDs (photos, videos, music, porn, whatever), and run your OS and applications from an SSD to get the benefit of the increased access times.

    • Sure, this is the way things are going, but until prices come down we won't be seeing SSDs replacing HDDs; work fine for the desktop, tho'

      We won't be seeing SSDs replacing HDDs until people start calculating differently: (Total power consumption costs + total cooling costs + price) / years until failure or replacement. And let's face it - 128GB of storage is enough for a lot of servers.

      • by afidel ( 530433 )
        Dude, the 3 year power and cooling cost of the whole server is less than the difference between the HDD and the SSD at this point. In a couple years when a 128GB SLC SSD can be had for the same cost as a 146GB SFF HDD it will make sense, but that's definitely not where we are today (Intel x-25e 64GB is ~$750, HP 146GB 10k is ~$200). Heck even the consumer grade x25m isn't there yet at ~$450 for the 160GB model.
  • by FuckingNickName ( 1362625 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @05:54AM (#31654774) Journal

    The Via C7/Nano seems to be a great chip for a home/small office server, what with its built-in AES encryption making it faster than even a high end Xeon without hardware acceleration. My current setup consists of 2*WD SE16 hard drives, APC UPS, 80+ Corsair PSU, PC2500e Nano mobo with 1GB, and a couple of 80mm case fans, together running under 50W idle, and only 7W more at full CPU load. If I were to replace the Corsair with a fanless PSU good up to 80-120W I might get an extra 5-10% efficiency; I could wipe out the case fans probably with no problem (2-3W, say), especially if I replaced hard with spinning solid state storage, and that of course would shave off around 15W. Substitute a large fanless heatsink for another W (or just get a fanless motherboard/CPU in the first place). But even as-is, it's a good improvement on my previous regular desktop CPU-based setup.

    For something which is on 24 hours a day, going several months between reboots and stressed only in the IO and encryption departments, I see no reason to use a full-power desktop processor. So, what problems have you guys encountered which has meant you haven't ended up with this option?

    • Well, we should be able to compare the actual computational power of the 2 processors.
      Guess the Atom is more energy efficient and faster than C7 (1Ghz is quite low ). Let alone now there are dual core atom chips, requiring only 4-5 watts more than the single core ones.
      • Wait, what? I was talking about a specific application in the general topic of power-efficient CPUs. I've yet to see a comparison of current high end Intel vs Via, e.g. Atom D510 vs Via Nano. If you genuinely need to sort all day, you probably have the intelligence and resources to prepare yourself, so you might be better off building a hardware sorting algorithm in an FPGA. You're unlikely to cluster low-power CPUs on off-the-shelf motherboards because your interconnect will be shit.

        Also, what is the 1GHz

        • Obviously they're looking at stock hardware. Furthermore, all CPUs are about as optimized as anything could be for sorting. Trying to roll your own in hardware isn't going to help a lot when the primary bottlenecks are memory and disk.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      Is the built-in AES encryption useful on Linux installations? E.g. if I scp files, will the encryption/decryption get offloaded to hardware?

    • by SpzToid ( 869795 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:35AM (#31654952)

      What are you using AES encryption for, hard disk encryption? If so, this is a little unusual for a server, which are normally found in secure facilities, but make sense for a home perhaps.

      I'm thinking a home NAS isn't something one would want a common house-thief to walk away with. But TFA article talks about sorting, and not NAS work, hence my request for clarity. I'm curious what your application, and OS is. Your setup is certainly interesting.

      • by FuckingNickName ( 1362625 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:56AM (#31655066) Journal

        Sorry - although I mentioned that the Via's great for a home/office encrypted NAS, I perhaps wasn't clear that this is precisely the application I was talking about. I was just expanding the discussion on power-efficient CPU applications, and implying that, when considering energy efficiency, a low power CPU with dedicated circuitry for popular complex operations might be the way forward.

        • by SpzToid ( 869795 )

          Thank you very much for the clarification, and the original information! I never really considered a VIA NAS PC, but yeah, disk encryption makes much sense for such an application.

          And I had no idea the VIA CPU offered such disk-encryption in-chip performance. As someone who really enjoys Ubuntu full-disk-encryption on notebooks, and also as someone who has considered this type of CPU for home/soho NAS-use but hasn't gotten so deep yet... Thank you very much for the low-power, home/soho security CPU tip! (I

    • Except for via`s own boards, dell blades and samsung nc20 there aint much out there actual uses it, the mainboards from intel are atleast here alot cheaper than those from via.
      For the consumer its down to whats cheaper and what have they heard about, Via never ran big advertisments like intel has done for atom in different mags, so lack of knowledge of the product leads to no comsumer demant.
      While the c7/nano compares favoritable to the atom, they have failed to keep up and offer a dual core version, and
      • You can get a Via C7 board for $60 [] so I honestly don't know how much cheaper they could go. I agree that they never advertised like AMD/Intel, but from what I understand they make a good living in the ultra low power market.

        That said I would probably go with the Dual Sempron [] for just $15 more, as the Sempron is still pretty low power and it has better expansion options, better graphics from an Nvidia onboard, and dual cores. It would probably be a better deal for the Linux users as well, as from what I un

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:58AM (#31655092) Journal
      Am I the only one who read this and thought that 50W idle is insanely high? For comparison, the BeagleBoard draws under 50mW idle. If the hard disks have spun down, that should be about your total power drain. Maybe 1W if you add a very inefficient PSU. Consuming 50W while doing nothing? That's not low power, that's embarrassing.
      • Erm, you're comparing apples and orchards.

        45-50W is including UPS, PSU and everything spinning (and miscellaneous peripherals omitted from the above list, e.g. second Ethernet PCI, floppy, DVD drive, external modem), and with a discussion on how this is far from the lowest power solution and how I could improve things. The drives spin using around 8W each, for example.

        The BeagleBoard draws 50mW at 5V DC with nothing connected, and would be hopeless for the NAS (and many other) applications described because

        • and now have an HP 50G calculator running off 4 AA batteries with a faster ARM CPU. I do appreciate the architecture and power efficiency of ARM designs.

          Are hp still emulating the saturn processor on their arm devices? while I understand with that model they are aiming for backwards compatibility. Attaching an arm clocked at 75mhz to a measly 512kb of ram and a 131x80 pixel screen seems ridiculous.

          I know it's just a calculator and there to get the job done, but native code is nice and quick and using less cpu power lets the batteries last longer.

          The TI nspire seems to be the only graphic calculator out there with a modern design.

          • Are hp still emulating the saturn processor on their arm devices?

            Yes, although some operations have been accelerated with a native rewrite. But the emulation allows a very mature product to be executed without the cost and bugs inevitable with a complete port. People don't use calculators for their horsepower, but for usability and portability. The HP RPN + CAS are very usable.

            FWIW, I very quickly gave up learning Saturn assembler when I still had a real Saturn device :-). Today, there are well-known ways of escaping to native ARM.

        • But you forget that most of those Watts is used to cool the CPU, and other stuff. A quad core ARM CPU of the newest generation would not need a cooling system, which would mean another big amounts of watts not drawn. Heck, The fact that the quad would draw a lot less than the 5-20watt slow x86 processor would give it a nice advantage.

          • For CPU cooling, I have replaced the stock PC2500e fan with a 40mm Rasurbo specced at 0.6W max, which I've then further slowed down. One of the dedicated case fans is used to cool the drives (quite effectively, so it'd be there regardless of CPU), and the other may be extraneous, as the PSU draws out air. It is left over from when I had a higher power board in there, particularly because I was considering a Zalman ZM-NB47J passive cooler for the C7 CPU and then keeping that case fan to ensure good airflow o

            • by vlm ( 69642 )

              Many people seem to run completely motionless Via C7 boxes, including by modding this motherboard - although more likely is that you'd start off buying a fanless board. They're commonly available clocked at 1GHz, though 1.2-1.5GHz fanless seems possible.

              That was pretty accurate about three years ago when I built a fanless mythtv box. Still running great.

              Now a days they're all 1.2GHz on a designed to be fanless, off the shelf board. ATOM based boards claim to have a higher marketing speed. No idea if they actually crunch numbers any faster, first stage in the proc might be a /2 flipflop for all I know.


              The reason for slow speed growth in that market sector is lack of interest... I play full screen video on my 3 year old m

      • by Eil ( 82413 )

        50W is a little high but not altogether bad for a system with multiple spinning disks and fans. The Beagleboard is an embedded system. Even with the required peripherals it doesn't hold a candle performance-wise to an Atom/Nano-based server.

      • I did also considering a bone stock 200$ eeepc 900 series draws only 36 watts under full load. Hook that up to an external monitor and keyboard and you have something much more efficient for web browsing use. Toss in an external hard disk and you're all set to go.

        • The EeePc's 36W full load is quite similar to the C7's 55W, recalling that the latter has two 3.5" drives and various fans rather than SSD. If a casual browsing machine were what's required, they'd both be fit for purpose following de-moving-part-ification of the C7.

          Others have mentioned laptops (including the Mac Mini, which is just half a laptop) as requiring less power. Well, yes - the aim isn't to find the lowest power machine with storage and net connectivity, as then my 4 AA cell powered ARM-based HP

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      50W idle is frankly unimpressive for such an underpowered rig. I'm running an Athlon x2 4200, 4GB of ram, 2x HDD's, tv tuner, NVidia 9600 GSO and I idle under 50W (max is about 150W).
      • Which motherboard, drives, PSU? Is everything spinning?

        I'm not surprised to hear that idle performance is excellent on a modern desktop CPU, and I've heard similar achievements with a single desktop HDD. The 45mm Core 2 Duos also idle very efficiently, but shoot up under load with no hardware acceleration to mitigate.

        I know that I'm unlikely to get readings much below current unless I switch to a PicoPSU or similar, because inefficiencies in a desktop PSU shoot right up at very low power output.

      • Agree that it's unimpressive. My Mac Mini running a 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, built-in drive, assorted USB peripherals including a second drive, all running through a UPS, typically measures 5-7W at the wall when idling. From time to time I've tried to load it up so that everything is in use and the processors are pegged, but have never gotten above 70W, again measured at the wall. The graphics capabilities are pretty anemic, which may make a substantial difference relative to many systems. OS X appears
        • There is absolutely no way that you're reading 5W at the wall with one Core 2 Duo plus two spinning drives, sorry. If one of these is a 7200rpm+ desktop drive, 5W+ will be needed to spin one drive. I'm running 4 year old but stably performing WD SE16 drives, and I know I could do better, but not this well.

          • Good points, and an apples-to-apples comparison is always difficult. While billed as a desktop, many of the Mini components are parts designed for mobile systems. Internal hard disk is 2.5", as is the external USB drive, and both spin down after a long enough period with no activity. Unused hardware components get powered off. The Core 2 Duo allows parts of the on-chip hardware to be shut down as well. The OS does as much with clock rates and voltage as it can, and does so aggressively. Some of Apple's lit

  • Of course you set records, when most of your CPU actually sits in your north bridge. Yes. That thing with the large heat sink and fan, is the north bridge. Not the CPU. The CPU is that smaller chip that you thought were the NB.

    It’s a fraud. Nothing else. A trick to hide their failure to get even in the same magnitude as ARM.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Here here!

      If any one attempted this test with a Arm Cortex 9A with the full 4 cores, this would be blown out of the water easily.

    • by Xocet_00 ( 635069 ) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:54AM (#31655324)
      They measure the power at the wall and not on the CPU specifically, so there's no 'fraud' going on. Putting processing elements on the north bridge does nothing to gain this system an advantage. Reading the contest rules, they recommend power meters like this: []
    • What the hell are you talking about? The north bridge does not contain most of the CPU. Yes, the Atom is often paired with an inefficient north bridge which requires a fan, but that's it. If what you said was true then Nvidia's ION (which replaces the north bridge) would be impossible.

      The newer Pineview Atoms do combine the Northbridge and CPU. Again this is nothing speical or any trickery, AMD has been doing this for years. You would again be wrong in your description if it was a Pineview in that t
  • ...leading one of its developers to claim: 'In the long run, many small, power-efficient and cooperating systems are going to replace the so far used, heavy weighted ones.'

    They're imagining the Beowulf clusters for us...

  • Records / joule might be interesting to some people, but it is a dangerous metric overall.


    Because it ignores time.

    It is accounted for somewhat in that there will be some power draw for spinning disks, or leakage; but all-in-all not good.

  • as this could drive the prices of ssd devices way down if big number crunching outfits decide to go with the solid state disks.
  • Jim Gray, Tim Bray... hm. Has anyone ever seen them in the same room together ?

  • The Total Cost of Operation of a data center is more than half facilities and power than the chips. It looks to be more economical (TCO) to use low-power chips, and more of them, over the long run.
    • But you'll have less density in terms of computing power, which means more racks and more floor space. I think the trend is toward higher power density. Once you add real estate costs, it is cheaper to run everything on fewer high powered CPUs than many Atoms although it may be less power efficient.

      • hmm... [] A Cortex A8 with 64 floating point units and a video unit capable of 1080p encode on a card that measures 72mm by 50mm. This could be interesting.
  • This assumes that we are limiting ourselves to digital media: You can sort any number of coins using no energy at all (besides gravity). []

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!