Looking at historical trends and performance benchmarks, a team of researchers in Spain have concluded that smartphone chips could one day replace the more expensive and power-hungry x86 processors used in most of the world's top supercomputers.
"History may be about to repeat itself," researchers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center wrote in a paper titled "Are mobile processors ready for HPC?" The paper was presented at the EDAworkshop13 in Dresden, Germany, this month.
The researchers point to the history of less expensive chips bumping out faster but higher-priced processors in high-performance systems. In 1993, the list of the world's fastest supercomputers, known as the Top500, was dominated by systems based on vector processors. They were nudged out by less expensive RISC processors like IBM's Power chip, whose use in supercomputers peaked early in the past decade. The RISC chips in turn were eventually replaced by cheaper commodity processors like Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, which today are used in more than 400 supercomputers on the Top500 list.
The transitions had a common thread, the researchers wrote: Microprocessors killed the vector supercomputers because they were "significantly cheaper and greener," they said.