While current generation processors are good at arithmetic in general, their design leaves many things to be desired. For example, while an Opteron CPU is more than capable of rendering 3D graphics, special purpose processors from ATI and NVIDIA are infinitely better at this task due to their specialized designs. Likewise, ATI and NVIDIA GPUs would not make very good general purpose processors. Both Intel and AMD have worked very hard on making the latest generation processors very good at general purpose computations — multiple cores, branch predictions, deep pipelines, operation fusion, etc. Unfortunately, none of these trends are particularly necessary for heavy mathematical computations, and in many cases these advancements have proven detrimental.
While desktops generally do not rely on heavy math operations, workstations and servers are demanding more and more out of CPUs that have drifted further and further away from mathematical computations. Enter Clearspeed. The company has been in the talks with AMD for some time now over the use of its dedicated math co-processors. AMD is looking at Clearspeed’s products and possibly integrating Clearspeed’s silicon into future Opteron quad-core processors.
Clearspeed’s current flagship processor, the CSX600 is a processor dedicated to complex mathematics processing only. Used in designs where applications include medical research, CAD, space research, data mining, and other math-intensive applications, Clearspeed’s products are far superior to standard general purpose processors alone. Clearspeed claims that its CSX600 co-processor is able to perform at 25Gflops per second under the right conditions. AMD’s Opteron can handle approximately 5.7Gflops, though the operations on the Opteron are significantly more complex than the ones carried out on the CSX600.
Currently, Clearspeed’s products are available as individual co-processor units or as add-in PCIe board. The company says that while PCI Express does offer a significant speed advantage over using PCI-X or PCI interfaces, HyperTransport interconnects offer the best performance. Clearspeed also mentions that Intel’s latest platform performs well with its co-processors, but due to delays with Common System Interconnect (Intel’s answer to HyperTransport) performance gains are limited.
As of right now, there doesn’t seem to be a firm deal between AMD and Clearspeed just yet, but things are shaping up nicely for Clearspeed, which is based in the UK. Intel also uses Clearspeed’s technology in some of its line of processors.
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