World’s New Fastest Supercomputer? That’s FinFETs-on-SOI in Action.


The CPUs in Summit, the world’s new fastest supercomputer are built on 14nm FinFET-on-SOI technology. Yes, those IBM Power9 CPUs are fabbed by GlobalFoundries (you’ll also find them in the z14, the most recent in IBM’s z-series of servers – a series that’s been on various iterations of SOI since its launch in 2003, btw). Summit’s at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, USA. It is now the top US supercomputer, and it’s for science.

The IBM-built Summit currently claims the spot in the Top500 as the world’s smartest and most powerful supercomputer. “It is capable of performing 200 quadrillion calculations per second — or 200 petaflops — making it the fastest in the world,” says IBM’s Dr. John E. Kelly, III, SVP, Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research. “But this system has never been just about speed. Summit is also optimized for AI in a data-intense world. We designed a whole new heterogeneous architecture that integrates the robust data analysis of powerful IBM Power CPUs with the deep learning capabilities of GPUs. The result is unparalleled performance on critical new applications.”

And if that’s not impressive enough for you, it’s also #5 on the Green500 list for the world’s most energy-efficient computers, posting Power Efficiency (GFlops/watts) of 13.889.

Summit supercomputer nodes: The IBM-built Summit supercomputer is the world’s smartest and most powerful AI machine. It consists of 4,600 individual nodes. Each node contains two 22-core 3.07GHz IBM POWER9 CPUs, which are built on GlobalFoundries’ 14nm HP FinFET-on-SOI technology, as well as six NVIDIA Telsa GPUs. (Photo Credit: ORNL).

As GF noted when they announced the technology in the fall of 2017 (read the GF press release here), their 14HP is the industry’s only technology to integrate a FinFET transistor architecture on SOI. Featuring a 17-layer metal stack and more than eight billion transistors per chip, the technology leverages embedded DRAM and other innovative features to deliver higher performance, reduced energy, and better area scaling over previous generations to address a wide range of deep computing workloads.

These technologies have long, deep histories (and were developed in close collaboration with SOI wafer leader Soitec). Here at ASN we have a fabulous archive of pieces contributed by IBM explaining the genesis of the technology – they’re great reads and still entirely pertinent:

The IBM POWER9 processor delivers unprecedented speeds for deep learning and AI workloads. IBM Engineer, Stefanie Chiras tests the IBM Power System server in Austin, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jack Plunkett/Feature Photo Service for IBM).

As ORNL noted in its press release (you can read it here), the first projects will apply machine learning and AI to astrophysics, materials science, cancer research and systems biology.

BTW, Summit also has a slightly smaller sister machine called Sierra, going in at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (part of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration). With 4,320 nodes (each  also containing two 22-core 3.07GHz IBM POWER9 CPUs, which are built on GlobalFoundries’ 14nm HP FinFET-on-SOI technology, but just four NVIDIA Telsa GPUs), Sierra’s claimed the #3 spot on the June 2018 Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

And the Power 9 is now finding it’s way into major data centers – like Google’s (read about that here). There have been some good pieces in the press about it, including in Forbes and The Motley Fool.  So yes, clearly there are exciting markets for FinFETs on SOI!