Intel, the world’s biggest chip maker, is struggling because it missed out on the chip market for mobile devices. Now mobile chips are coming for a market the chip maker has dominated for a long time: supercomputers, reports the Technology Review.
Bad news for Intel
In academia, industry and government, supercomputers are used for research in topics as varied as potential new drugs and nuclear weapons. Chips produced by Intel power more than 90% of the 500 most powerful of them and dominate the PC and server markets. In contrast, U.K.-based ARM, which has long prioritized energy efficiency, builds chips that power most smartphones and tablets.
This week, supercomputer maker Fujitsu said it will use ARM-based processors to build a successor to a Japanese supercomputer called Project K. It is building the machine for the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, which will use the machine for climate, energy and biochemical research. The computer is slated to be installed and turned on by 2020.
Fujitsu announced the plan at the International Supercomputing Conference in Germany, where there was even more bad news for Intel. A new list of the world’s most power supercomputers of the world was revealed, and the bad news for the chip making giant was that the new top machine is not based on its x86 technology.
ARM could prove to be a threat
More powerful chips used to deliver predictable gains in high-performance computing. However, other factors have become limiting, like the speed at which data can be moved around inside the system. Thus, builders of supercomputers have begun looking at other designs to let their machines keep getting faster. One of those builders is ARM.
James Cuff, assistant dean for research computing at Harvard University, told the Technology Review, “It’s a disruptive time to be in high performance computing. Those that design machines inside the power envelope with the right support of key algorithms and codes are going to be the players that ultimately win in this new game.”
Since 2011, ARM has been putting its money into getting its chips into high-performance computers. It has struck partnerships with graphics chip maker Nvidia and IBM. Recently, it created software partnerships to make sure popular research software runs on ARM-based processors.
In pre-market trading today, Intel shares were down almost 3%. Year to date, the stock is down almost 6%, while in the last year, it is up almost 3%.