Happy to just stay home and play

Posted: 12.11.06

This week I’ve got a grab bag of random thoughts

Management sink

How to stop show’ing off

As most of you should know by now, Intel has cut back on the IDF conferences. To which we say Thank you! But we’re not just being selfish. I would imagine the shareholders are saying it, too. Not because IDF loses money—it doesn’t, it more than pays for itself, just ask the exhibitors.

But more important is the cost to the senior and middle management in preparing for and presenting at the show. Weeks of work go into those 30- to 45-minute presentations. Multiply that by N conferences around the world, and you’ve got a colossal expense, and lost opportunity costs, and these days, no one, and maybe Intel most of all, can afford to carry such a burden. Intel has shown some industry leadership (again) and just said, No! I think we can all learn something here.

Menage à trois

The AMD, Nvidia, ATI affair

 If you read the Mt. Tiburon Testing Labs story in this issue, you saw that we got our hands on a supercomputer that AMD is calling the 4x4. It’s a tour de force, with four CPUs, two chipsets, and up to four GPUs. For the demo units, AMD choose Nvidia’s SLI chipsets, and naturally Nvidia’s AIBs. The unit we played with has two GeForce 7900GTXs. AMD refers to this as their “platform launch chipset partner.”

Almost everyone (except us, of course) asked the AMD folks, Why Nvidia? Didn’t you just acquire ATI? AMD says this is just part of their openness policy, proving they are not going to try to shove down the OEMs or the consumer’s throat any single platform solution.

That’s all true, but the practicality of it is that this platform was being designed before the ATI acquisition came to be, and switching suppliers would have set it back months, and with Intel pulling in their quad-core release date AMD had to stay the course. Also, Nvidia does have a better reputation for dual GPU, so nothing was really lost by ATI or AMD with this system.

Does that mean Nvidia has a lock on 4x4? No. Probably when the R600 comes out we’ll see a 4x4 with ATI Crossfire chipsets and at least two R600s in it. AMD will then say, “Hey, it’s just part of our openness strategy, we’ve not shoving Nvidia down anyone’s throat either.”

My last computer

More on four-by-four

Figure 2. The Beast, Jon’s last computer? (Photo: JPR)

You’ve heard me blath-er on about supercomputers; you know I’m fascinated by them and that it’s a longstanding infatuation. Well, now I truly have one, in almost any dimension or parameter you want to measure it.

As I said, the Beast (AMD’s 4x4) we wrote about in the MTTL section of this issue has four CPUs, two GPUs, and a PPU, which we added. In just raw FP power I think that comes to at least a TFLOPS. Now think about that—on a desktop for under $3,000.

Aside from the raw processing power, which will just go up in heat if not exploited by the proper software, this system can get even more powerful. When AMD comes out with their monolithic quad-core chip, it will drop into the 1207 socket and provide 2x the number of CPU cores. And, as mentioned in the MTTL article, the motherboard can hold up to four graphics AIBs. The DIMMs can be expanded to 8 GBytes per socket and that too will get larger, and up to 16 SATA HDDs, each with 1 TByte if desired.

Now, I’m not totally sure this is what some OEMs want to hear; they’d like to sell us a new PC every year, or at least every other year. I don’t think that’s going to happen here for a while. Combined with the multi-tasking capabilities of Vista and its graphics exploitation, a whole host of new multi-threaded applications and games, Moore’s Law continuing to make these beasts ridiculously affordable, and really scalable architecture like hyperlink and quad-cores, the motherboard, if designed properly, will support several generations of expansion and upgrading. We may have to go to 1kW power supplies, but even they are affordable and physically adaptable.

So unless you just get tired of looking at the case, with a 4x4 you could be using the same basic platform for several years and never be embarrassed by its performance, or your productivity.