Can NVIDIA Outsmart Intel in High-Performance Computing?

For several years, NVIDIA  (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) has been looking to branch out beyond gaming. The company found that its GPUs can be used to drastically speed up code that can be run in parallel, which makes NVIDIA's technology perfect for accelerating high-performance computing, or HPC. As a result, NVIDIA released a product called Tesla in 2010, which combines the company's GPU with software to provide HPC acceleration.

Currently, NVIDIA has a dominant share in HPC accelerators, but recently, Intel  (NASDAQ: INTC  ) has been trying to muscle in on this market with a new line of co-processors, called the Xeon Phi. Intel already provides processors for many HPC environments, so is its move into accelerators really bad news for NVIDIA?

Intel gains ground in HPC
Tesla saw 37% revenue growth in 2013, and NVIDIA's management expects accelerating growth down the line. Furthermore, according to the TOP500 supercomputer ranking, 67 of the world's top 500 supercomputers use some kind of co-processor or accelerator, and of these, almost two-thirds use NVIDIA's Tesla.

Intel's Xeon Phi, introduced in 2012, is featured in 16 of the 67 top supercomputers that use accelerators. This trails NVIDIA, but Intel has had some high-profile wins, including the Tianhe-2, the world's largest supercomputer. Additionally, the upcoming release in the Xeon Phi line, code named Knights Landing, combines both the CPU and the accelerators, possibly posing even more of a threat to NVIDIA.

Why NVIDIA isn't worried
NVIDIA is confident that its technology is superior, and independent reviews show significantly better performance on financial benchmarks using Tesla over current versions of Xeon Phi. In addition, the company has a first-mover advantage, since programs have already been written and optimized for its Tesla platform.

On the other hand, Motley Fool analyst Timothy Green sees Intel's upcoming Knights Landing processor as a big threat to NVIDIA. He cites the power efficiency of Intel's next-generation chips and the unified processor/accelerator architecture as advantages that might disrupt NVIDIA's growth in the HPC market. But, NVIDIA might still have a move to turn the tables on Intel.

Who's chasing whom?
NVIDIA recently announced that Tesla is now compatible with ARM-based chips, the kind of low-powered processors that run smartphones and tablets, which are increasingly taking business away from Intel's x86 architecture. The ARM/Tesla approach is already gaining traction, and is planned to be used in a next-generation supercomputer that is to be built in Barcelona and will attempt to overtake the Tianhe-2 in performance.

So, in spite of looking like the aggressor, it is actually Intel that might see a decrease in its overall HPC share. Current HPC revenue is not very significant for either company, with NVIDIA estimating that its data center products, which include Tesla, earn "tens of millions of dollars" per year, a tiny slice of its $4 billion in annual revenue. But, trends in HPC signal more widespread changes later, giving Intel something to worry about.

The bottom line
Intel and NVIDIA are fighting it out in the high-performance computing processor market, with Intel appearing to be the aggressor and gaining share. However, NVIDIA's accelerators still lead in terms of performance, and NVIDIA's support for ARM-based chips might even undermine Intel's position in HPC. While this wouldn't be a huge blow in terms of revenue, Intel should worry that ARM-based chips are taking even more of its business away.

Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may shock you)
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early-in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 18, 2014, at 4:10 PM, HPChawk wrote:

    "significantly better performance on financial benchmarks using Tesla over current versions of Xeon Phi"... ummmmm, I've seen finance benchmarks that show Xeon Phi is much better than Tesla...

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 3033045, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/4/2015 4:08:35 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Srdjan Bejakovic

Today's Market

updated 6 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,374.76 23.38 0.14%
S&P 500 1,951.13 2.27 0.12%
NASD 4,733.50 -16.48 -0.35%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/3/2015 4:00 PM
INTC $29.08 Up +0.48 +1.68%
Intel CAPS Rating: ****
NVDA $22.27 Up +0.06 +0.27%
Nvidia CAPS Rating: *****