Intel's Xe Graphics Architecture to Power DOE's First Exascale Supercomputer

Intel and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today that Aurora, the world's first supercomputer capable of sustained exascale computing, would be delivered to the Argonne National Laboratory in 2021. Surprisingly, the disclosure includes words that Intel's not-yet-released Xe architecture would form a key component of the new system.

Intel and partner Cray will build the system under a $500 million contract. The new system is comprised of Cray's Shasta system design, which we recently covered extensively. This platform can feature a wide range of CPUs, with the Aurora system featuring undisclosed Intel Xeon CPUs. The system also comes armed with "a future generation" of Intel's Optane DC Persistent Memory that uses 3D XPoint that can be addressed as either storage or memory. This marks the first known implementation of Intel's new memory in a supercomputer-class system, but it isn't clear if the reference to a future generation implies a new Optane variant beyond Intel's first-gen DIMMs that haven't been released yet.

More importantly, the system leverages Intel's Xe graphics architecture, though the official reference to the Xe branding in the press release states Xe will be used for compute functions, meaning it will be primarily used for AI computing.

Neither Intel nor the DOE would comment on what GPU form factor will make an appearance in the new supercomputer, but logically we could expect these to be Intel's discrete graphics cards. The rise of GPUs in the supercomputing space is explosive: in 2008 not one supercomputer used GPUs for computation, instead relying on the tried-and-true CPU, but now 80% of compute power in the top 500 supercomputers now comes from GPUs. As such, if true, that would signify a major marketing win for Intel, as it would require unseating Nvidia's finest from a role it typically serves

The supercomputer is designed to chew through Analytics, HPC, and AI workloads at an exaFLOP pace, marking a new high for the supercomputing realm and possibly handing the United States the leadership position on the Top500 supercomputing list.

The Aurora supercomputer will be infused with a whole host of Intel's technologies that form the basis of its new six pillars.

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