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  • althaz - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    But what are the actual benefits of "POWER" over x86 and ARM (and others)?

    Licensing is great, but it only matters if people actually want your IP.
  • Krysto - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    I assume the biggest advantage is customizability, just like for ARM chips (or perhaps even more so). It allows customers to make (roughly speaking) any type of chip they want, instead of relying on Intel's "stock" chips.

    Also ARM isn't in that high-end market yet, and probably the only competition there could be MIPS, but I think Imagination will be focusing more on mobile this decade at least. So yeah, I guess it makes some sense to do this at the very high-end levels, and it gives Nvidia the opportunity to stave off Xeon Phi.
  • Ramiliez - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Intel offers customizability too and x86 is cheap and has thriving market which translates to really cheap hardware unlike IBMs vendor lock-in. Thats why is IBM trying to openwash Power with this openpower marketing
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    I think this is IBM trying to get POWER to actually get used outside of IBM hardware. It may be too little, too late (RIP DEC Alpha and others), but we'll see. POWER processors tend to have a lot of options that appeal to the server market, more so than ARM servers I think, so as Krysto said there's now another option besides x86 or ARM for companies to look at. My guess: the licensing costs will be so high that no one will use it outside of academia. :-p Reply
  • Krysto - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Yes, IBM has been disrupted for decades by Intel with its cheaper prices. But the ironic thing is this may be just a battle between dinosaurs in the end. ARM chips will be disrupting Intel soon, too, with cheaper prices and a more customizable model (everyone can make their own CPU/GPU cores), much in the same way Intel disrupted IBM.

    Nvidia is positioned to take advantage of that, too, with its Denver/Maxwell chips, and beyond.
  • iwod - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Exactly, i am going to assume it will be expensive. Coming from IBM.

    Would like Anandtech to do a summary on POWER, what is it good at ( if anything ).

    To my knowledge it isn't any better then Intel at the high end ( TCO wise ), and it doesn't offer anything special in the low end either.

    Which makes me kind of question its value of existence.
  • nevertell - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Well, IBM licenses it's software for the amount of cores, as many enterprises do, but you can use 2 intel cores for a single POWER license, so that's quite a good indication that Power does in fact beat Intel on some occasions. (And even with the 2 intel cores, customers often choose Power instead because of the higher performance). Reply
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    At the high end the current Power 7 offers some serious performance. The chips, caches power consumption and prices are truely massive. Don't know if power efficiency can get anywhere near Intel, though. Reply
  • iwod - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Looks like i cant edit :(

    I just read over in HN that ARM, MIPS and POWER all surprise x86 in Unit shipment. And it is interesting that Automotive industry are all set on POWER, ( why is that? ).
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Modern POWER and PowerPC chips share a common ISA. Early on when cars were first getting embedded computers, IBM made the push to get their embedded chips (PowerPC 400 series) into them. The rest has been historical. Another reason is that IBM has a IEEE compliant floating point unit incorporated within the PowerPC/POWER spec. Thus if an embeded PowerPC chip comes with a FPU, it will use the same FPU instructions as other PowerPC chips. (For comparison, ARM's FPU unit hasn't been standardized in its ISA until very recently.) This allowed software developers to keep their FPU code between generations of PowerPC chips. Reply
  • alpha754293 - Thursday, August 08, 2013 - link

    Well, one of the things that POWER is known for is their compute ability. A decent POWER5 processor can probably still do donuts around ANY x86 processor in Monte Carlo simulations because the chip itself at the macro level is pretty much a Monte Carlo processor. Having said that however, it was also the trademark that they were quite woefully and semi-ironically power inefficient; which in today's world of rising energy costs, is just one of the many nails in the coffin.

    By opening up the architecture and development of the hardware, perhaps you can see a lower power version of it, but we will have to see how that goes.

    The other benefit that POWER brings is their mini-POWER processors (the PowerPC, which powered Macs and a bunch of offshoots), and their baby-POWER processors in the form of the Bluegene/L/P/Q series. Those are largely used in MPP installations where the lack of core speed is compensated for by just having a TON of them, with the advantage being VERY power efficient (the opposite end of the spectrum).

    And BTW, bank mainframes still use IBM POWER systems a LOT because at 4 FLOPs/Hz, nothing has been able to beat that. And IA-64 resembles a copy of the POWER architecture, with poorer execution and implementation (plus general lack of support from hardware and software vendors alike).
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Intel does not offer custom x86 chips. If you want an x86 SoC you can either go to AMD who will gladly craft a custom chip for you if pay them or get what every SoC Intel is offerig everyone else because that is what Intel thinks should be on an SoC.

    ARM's advantage has been customization. You could license a CPU core from them, go to another vendor for the memory controller, USB controller etc., add a bit of your own logic and then choose where you'd like for it to be manufactured. Each step comes at a price for licensing but it is fairly open.

    The odd thing is that most people are seeing this announcement from IBM as attempting to emulate ARM's business model. This is incorrect as IBM already offers up embedded PowerPC cores designs in a similar fashion. The news worthy change is that IBM is opening up their ultra high end POWER cores in this model.
  • dgingeri - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    It looks like nobody has bothered to actually answer the question. POWER has a few advantages over x86, but most are only useful in the server realm.

    1. the architecture is designed around accuracy. While the SSE instructions in X86 have reduced the accuracy of PC calculations today, POWER was designed to calculate them out to many more significant digits. This is useful for many types of scientific research and banking, not so much for running Excel or games.

    2. POWER has many ECC routines built into every stage of the architecture, including the instruction set. Because of this, data corruption and system crashing happens far less often.

    3. POWER was built from the ground up for virtualization, instead of being an addon like X86. This makes it much more efficient when running virtual machines.

    These things could be useful in a PC environment, but not really game changers.
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    1. SSE and the binary floating point units inside POWER both adhere to the IEEE 754 spec. POWER6 and POWER7 do offer a binary decimal unit which do offer greater precision but require applications to be rewritten to use the new instructions and data types.

    2. It is true that every data path in IBM's power lines have ECC support, the instruction set itself inherently is not ECC protected. Thus the instructions moving around inside a modern POWER chip are ECC protect, that can end once they move off chip.

    Data corruption and system crashing related to errors encountered inside the CPU is surprisingly rare when systems are run within spec. Memory chips are where most of the corruption originates. End to end ECC protection does offer better detection as integrity is maintain throughout the design.

    3. Actually virtualization is also an add-on to the POWER architecture. Hardware virtualization capabilities didn't arrive until the POWER4 and really didn't hit its prime until POWER5. A lot of POWER's virtualization capabilities were ported or adapted from IBM's mainframe efforts which have had decades of polish.
  • Brutalizer - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    The POWER7 was a good cpu when it was released some years ago, but now there are faster cpus. x86 is faster in some benchmarks, at a much lower price. Oracle SPARC T5 is way faster and holds several world records, but it is a newer cpu so that is to be expected.

    The main advantage of Unix cpus such as IBM POWER7 is the RAS. What costs is not performance, but reliability. RAS is very difficult to get, and very expensive. Intel Xeon is getting some RAS features now, but they can not compete with the RAS from traditional Unix cpus such as IBM POWER, Oracle SPARC and Itanium. This is the reason a IBM Mainframe is very expensive, RAS costs. Speed doesnt. Once a server is fast enough, you want it to be reliable in the Enterprise market. Downtime must be avoided.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    In their highest end Xeon variant, IIRC Intel has added most of the RAS features that were previously only available with the Itanium. Although they continue to insist otherwise, I expect the remainder are planned to be added soon at which point the Itanic will be allowed to sink. Reply
  • Henriok - Friday, August 09, 2013 - link

    Power Architecture processors comes in a very wide variety of flavors. From <50 MHz, sans-FPU and MMU parts that consumes milliwatts (Freescale's e200z0 cores), to 18 core monster-SoCs with powerful FPUs and integrated communications fabrics (BlueGene/Q) and everything in between like customized gaming CPUs with integrated GPU (XCGPU in Xbox 360 S), LTE base stations on a chip (QorIQ B4860) or the most powerful server CPU available with massive amounts of embedded DRAM and enormous amounts of IO (POWER7).
    The cores can be tiny single threaded in order things or four way our of order, multithreaded with multiple memory controllers, cryptography accelerators, special media accelerators, DSPs, floating point engines, SIMD-egines, GPUs, multiple levels of cache, integrated USB, Ethernet and other IO, one core or 18 cores, the same core type or different, run a single operating system or many asynchronously.
    All these are binary compatible.
    All these features are specified under the same living specification, governed by a broad spectrum consortium.

    Many cores are available in hard and soft macros, freely licensable from a variety of sources like Synopys, LSI as well as Freescale and IBM. These designs have a veriety of cores to chose from for their bespoke SoCs. Like the e200 and e500 from Freescale and 400 family (405, 440, 460, 470) from IBM, Applied Micro, LSI and Synopsys.
    And these designs can be manufactured by a fab of your choice: IBM, Global Foundries, TSMC, UMC or your own.

    Freescale offers a guarantee to manufacture certain designs for 20 years or more. That's a prerequisite to sell parts to certain projects with a long expected life span, like military equipment such as the F-35.
    Many designs like the PowerPC 603e, 440, 750, e500, and 7400 are available in radiation hardened versions for use in space or other extreme environments. Manufactured by several companies, like BAE, Space Micro, Broad Reach, Atmel and Honeywell.

    AMD and Intel offers _nothing_ like this. Their offerings doesn't even compare, but on just some special cases.
    ARM and MIPS does compare, but there's nothing from either that can perform as powerfully as Power can. The FPUs, SIMD-engines, frequencies, number of cores available to those who design custom processors based on Power outperform anything either ARM or MIPS can up bring. ARM is least 10 years behind when power consumption isn't the primary constraint of the design.
    SPARC is comparable too, but doesn't offer the range, nor the customization options or choice of designer or manufacturer.

    And now, IBM offers their future POWER8 as a base for a new breed of ultra high end customized processors. I can see supercomputer-SoCs with 8x eight way multithreaded POWER8 cores, integrated Tesla GPUs, interconnect intra-CPU fabric from Mellanox, and PCIe for direct attached super fast SSDs.. on one chip. That'd be a super dense supercomputer of which we've never seen. 10-50 times as performance dense as the best design today.
    Can't do that on any other platform.
    I can see Google and Facebook making a series of highly customized server processors with only what they need, and nothing else. Many high speed simple cores, integrated 10 Gbit Ethernet on chip, DDR-controllers, nothing else. They have an enormous amount of servers so they can afford customized hardware on this level just to make their modules cheaper to manufacture and run.

    For super computers or the likes of Facebook and Google, the ISA doesn't matter. They are not running off the shelf software anyway, so a recompile to another architecture (than x86) doesn't matter.
  • wumpus - Thursday, August 15, 2013 - link

    "the ISA doesn't matter". Fine, you just change the arch selection on the makefile and re-compile major enterprise software and deploy it. I'm sure everybody bothered to make sure all the byte accesses would work just as well on big endian machines as they did on the little endian systems they were written fore.

    A more accurate statement is that the costs to change ISA are fixed (and relatively small) while the costs to buy hardware keep increasing (and are significant). Also, Intel makes a great deal of money selling to those us who do care about ISA (even if we hate ours), so they include a cost that these companies aren't interested in.

    Finally, I can't see this as anything but a surrender. IBM lost control of the PC world when they opened it (and it ate the mainframe's lunch within the decade, nearly killing IBM). IBM isn't opening this up because they want competition. IBM is opening it up because they can no longer afford the infrastructure to keep making POWER. My guess is that they won't share enough of the profit to convince others to pay those costs either (how many licenses has Nvidia bragged about lately?).
  • loa_dir - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    One of the advantages is performance. POWER chips can have about twice the performance per core in throughput-oriented server applications. In HPC and other FPU-intensive applications the advantage can be even higher.

    The POWER chips powerefficiency seems to be quite good also, at least if you look on the green500 list (the most powerefficent supercomputers in the world). IBM occupies quite a lot of the top spaces.
  • jjj - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Wonder what this means for Project Denver ,if anything. Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Nothing directly. nVidia has already stated that Project Denver is an ARM based design.

    Any future POWER plans with nVidia will be under a different project name.
  • TooYellow - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    It's disingenuous to call something "open" then license it to people. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    You can create open software on POWER now, while if you want to build your own CPU/SoC you need to license. So it is open from the software angle. That's my understanding at least -- I don't think POWER7/POWER8 were open in this way before, though some of the earlier POWER instruction sets are. Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    IBM had licensed earlier PowerPC cores which are ISA compatible with the POWER chips.

    In fact, the only difference between POWER and PowerPC at this point is marketing and artificial segmentation.
  • WeaselITB - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    IBM has been in the process of divesting their hardware divisions for years ... this seems like another logical step in the overall scheme. Get a consortium together, license the IP, eventually sell off the IP to the consortium -- a nice, clean way to break ties with hardware while still maintaining ties with hardware.

  • haihuynh - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    bop nu Reply
  • loa_dir - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    Is it really true that the use of POWER is diminishing? Yes, on consumeroriented hardware, definitely. But I think that IBM is very well positioned in the server, mainframe and HPC market. I remember reading somewhere that about half of IBMs profits comes from products with POWER processors, and services and software for that hardware. That means IBM is making about 8bn $ /year of profits on the POWER chips. You seldom make that big profits on an architecture that is heavily declining. Reply
  • shodanshok - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    If I correctly remember, about half of IBMs profits comes from _mainframes_, ergo SystemZ installation. Probably the upper-end Power installations can be considered mainframes also, so this data can include some Power system also. However, SystemZ is the mainframe system of choice for IBM. I fear that for widespread Power usage is too little, to late, but I hope to be wrong ;) Reply
  • ultimatebob - Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - link

    I guess that it's nice that companies are now deciding to open source their dying technology products now, but moves like this never seem to save a product from extinction.

    Some good examples of this "death by open source" maneuver are Open WebOS from HP/Palm, MeeGo from Intel/Nokia, and the opening of the BeOS source code.

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