New supercomputer will unite x86, Power9 and ARM chips

Ambitious supercomputer being built at Barcelona Supercomputing Center will host a trifecta of chip architectures

For once, there will be a ceasefire in the war between major chip architectures x86, ARM and Power9, which will all be used in a supercomputer being built in Barcelona.

The MareNostrum 4 is being built by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, and will have three clusters, each of which will house Intel x86, ARM and Power9 chips. Those clusters will be linked to form a supercomputer that will deliver up to 13.7 petaflops of performance.

All three architectures have never been implemented together in a supercomputer, let alone PCs or servers. It raises questions on how the architectures will interoperate.

The three chip architectures are fundamentally different. An application written to take advantage of a specific architecture won't work on another, but server architectures are changing so different types of systems can coexist. Linux supports x86, ARM and Power, so it's possible to write applications to work across architectures.

Emerging networking and throughput interfaces like Gen-Z and OpenCAPI also make it possible for companies to install servers based on different architectures in one data center. Those standards are meant to break the stranglehold of a single architecture, and also provide a blueprint to build a multi-architecture supercomputer like MareNostrum 4.

BSC's goal is to make a supercomputer using emerging technologies that can be used for all kinds of scientific calculations, the research institution said.

The computer will let researchers experiment with all sorts of alternative, cutting-edge computing technologies, said Scott Tease, executive director for Lenovo's HyperScale and High Performance Computing group, in an email.

One such technology involves low-power ARM chips, which dominate smartphones, but are not yet used in supercomputers.

The system will share common networking and storage assets, Tease said. Lenovo is providing server and chip technologies for MareNostrum 4.

However, the performance of MareNostrum 4 isn't overwhelming, especially when compared to China's Sunway TaihuLight, which is the world's fastest computer. TaihuLight delivers 93 petaflops of peak performance.

BSC has knack for developing experimental supercomputers like MareNostrum 4. Starting in 2011, BSC built multiple supercomputers using ARM-based smartphone chips. The Mont-Blanc and subsequent Pedraforca computers were rooted in the premise that supercomputers with smartphone chips could be faster and more power efficient than conventional server chips like Intel's Xeon or IBM's Power, which dominate high-performance computing.

But last year, ARM developed a new high-performance computing chip design with Fujitsu that will be implemented in MareNostrum 4. The chip has a heavy dose of vector processing, which has been a staple of supercomputers for decades.

The other ingredients of MareNostrum 4 include Lenovo server cabinets with Intel's current Xeon Phi supercomputing chip, code-named Knights Landing, and upcoming chip code-named Knights Hill. It will also have racks of computing nodes with IBM Power9 chips, which will ship next year.

The supercomputer will be implemented in phases, and replace the existing MareNostrum 3. It will have storage capacity of 24 petabytes.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags supercomputers

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments




Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >


Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?