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Intel’s Many Integrated Cores (MIC) announcement

Lots of interesting things were announced at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC’10) this week.  Sadly, I wasn’t there; I was just reading the press releases, tweets, blogs, and watching the vlogs like everyone else who wasn’t there.

I’ll pick just one topic to discuss here: the Intel Many Integrated Cores (MIC) announcement.

The Intel MIC announcement announced a fun new product code-named Knights Corner. Here’s the highlights:

  • 22 nanometer
  • “More than 50” cores
  • 1.2GHz processors
  • 4 hyperthreads per core
  • Available in laptops (!) and servers in 2011

This is clearly a fascinating product: 50+ cores in a socket! It’ll be an interesting challenge to write software for that puppy. The announcement mentions that the CERN openlab group ported a “complex C++ benchmark” to the MIC software development platform in just a few days. I’d certainly be interested to hear more about their experiences.

There was also an interesting statement mixed in the middle of the announcement:

“While the vast majority of workloads will still run best on award-winning Intel® Xeon® processors, Intel® MIC architecture will help accelerate select highly parallel applications.”

Intel seems to be (rightfully) trying to temper some of the excitement over this shiny new toy: it ain’t for everyone. While it can give oodles and oodles of performance, it is a fairly specialized architecture that probably only maps well to certain kinds of problems and applications. Don’t think that Microsoft Office will necessarily run any faster on it; the statement above seems to imply that you need a well-tuned, highly-parallelized code to truly shine on MIC.

In short: MIC may or may not be right for you. That’s a point worth repeating to a friend. Remember: what your apps do on a target platform is what should matter to you.

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