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HPC User Site Census: Processors

by Christopher Willard, Ph.D., Addison Snell, Laura Segervall
for Intersect360 Research
September 2010

The Processors report is part of our Site Census series and provides an examination of the processor use in systems found at a sample of HPC user sites. We surveyed a broad range of users about their current computer system installations, storage systems, networks, middleware, and applications software supporting these computer installations.

Our goal in this analysis is to examine the processor suppliers, products, and configurations used in high-performance computing systems.

Key findings of the Site Census surveys include the following:

  • By three measures of share, the x86 architecture is predominant in the HPC community. Ninety percent of systems in our total site survey reported processors from AMD or Intel. The data shows this same trend when examining processors by node count and by core count. Intel remains the market share leader. All vendors other than Intel and AMD have single-digit shares. This analysis was performed excluding outliers, which are systems with 2,000 or more nodes.
  • Two-processor nodes remain the most common in distributed memory systems, although 4, 8, and 16 processor nodes do appear in the Census population. The cluster architecture remains dominant with smaller contributions from blade and SMP systems. Some systems have a mix of nodes with 2 and 4 processors, and other combinations.
  • Multi-core processor technology is increasing common in HPC systems and the number of cores per processor is rising. When studied by year of acquisition, average number of cores per processor has nearly doubled between 2006 and 2009. The four core processor holds the greatest share and is the sweet spot for HPC designers and processor suppliers at this time.
  • Trends in memory requirements anticipate increasing challenges for the HPC community. Average memory per core remains about the same over the last five years and average memory per processor has doubled. However, the average memory used by nodes is growing non-linearly. Providing sufficient memory to new multi-core processor nodes will be increasingly difficult as this trend continues.
  • The use of special-purpose processors, or accelerators, remains relatively rare in the HPC community, but growth continues. Nvidia is most often named as the accelerator supplier, but many respondents indicated that they did not know the supplier’s name.


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