The fastest computer in Europe will get a sizeable upgrade: 4500 new GPUs and faster CPUs to boot

A photo of the Piz Daint supercomputer at the swiss supercomputing centre CSCS. It will soon get even faster. Photo copyright: CSCS.Supercomputer upgrade:
Thousands of GPUs and CPUs

The fastest computer on the old continent can look forward to getting a huge present.

The Piz Daint supercomputer at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (better known under its Italian acronym CSCS) will get a proper upgrade.

What will the experts at CSCS change under the hood?

In the Top500 supercomputer rankings that are updated twice a year, the Swiss Piz Daint currently holds an overall seventh place. This could change by June when the list of top supercomputers will be next updated.

The skilled professionals at CSCS will install four and a half thousand new Nvidia graphic cards. Older GPUs called K20X that are based on the Kepler architecture will be replaced by the newest Tesla P100 with Pascal cores, thus skipping a whole generation of graphic chips with the Maxwell architecture.

The supercomputer’s already staggering performance will improve even further.

What will change for the Piz Daint? Here’s a comparison of its old and new GPUs
GPU model K20X P100
Architecture Kepler Pascal
Thread count 2688 3584
Base frequence (in MHz) 732 1328
Memory capacity (in MB) 6144 16384
Bus width (in bits) 384 4096
Throughput (in GB/s) 250 720

There are very noticeable differences in both cards’ performance. The K20X is already a very able card, but the newer P100 surpasses it in every way. Now imagine the performance of 4500 these cards. The huge difference in bus width (and in effect, throughput) can be attributed to P100 using the new HBM2 technology.

But those are not all the upgrades that are about to happen. The experts from the Swiss CSCS plan to replace the current line-up of Xeon CPUs based on the Sandy Bridge architecture with newer, Haswell-based chips.

And on top of that, the Piz Daint will be combined with another supercomputer, the smaller Piz Dora, that’s also stationed at the CSCS.

So the system that can currently do about 7,8 petaflops – floating point operations per second – should eventually be about twice as fast. After the upgrade, it could theoretically compute almost 16 petaflops.

Unless other experts the world over suddenly decide to upgrade their supercomputers as well, Piz Daint should jump to the fourth place of the top supercomputers list.

How did the Europe’s fastest computers get their names?

Piz Daint and Piz Dora (as well as all the other supercomputers at CSCS) are named after major mountain summits in the Swiss Alps. The experts from CSCS even decorated their huge rack cases with decals depicting the mountain peaks.

The considerable improvement will be funded by the ETH Zurich university and will cost about 40 million Swiss francs (so about 42 million US dollars or 28,5 British pounds).

All supercomputers at CSCS are regularly available for Swiss universities and R&D centres to crunch scientific data. The researchers must first make a formal request for the expensive computing time. If their project gets authorized by an independent committee, they can then run their simulations on some of the fastest computers in Europe.

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