Before we continue with the review, we would like to say we had a huge amount of interest from our readers on just what these cards are, and how to use them.
First off, they cannot be used as PhysX acceleration card to boost game performance, so don't expect them to run your Ubisoft games at greater than 30 FPS. When you install a Xeon Phi coprocessor in your system, they will not show up in the task manager as extra cores that your CPU shows. They have no GUI, so you will not see a desktop for these cards; instead, you run them through a command line interface.
What they are, in simple terms, is a completely self-contained x86 processor with memory that runs an embedded Linux OS called uOS. That means you can compile x86 based code to run directly on the Xeon Phi Coprocessor. These cards communicate with the host system over the PCIe buss, so code can be running on the Phi, receive data from the host system, process that data, and send it back to the host. These cards can be run as a single processing unit, or clustered and communicate over the network. They have a great deal of flexibility in how they are used.
Intel describes the intended use for these cards as follows:
"The Intel Xeon Phi Coprocessor 3100 family provides outstanding parallel performance. It is an excellent choice for compute-bound workloads, such as MonteCarlo, Black-Scholes, HPL, LifeSc, and many others. Active and passive cooling options provide flexible support for a variety of server and workstation systems.
The Intel Xeon Phi Coprocessor 5100 family is optimized for high-density computing and is well-suited for workloads that are memory-bandwidth bound, such as STREAM, memory-capacity bound, such as ray-tracing, or both, such as reverse time migration (RTM). These coprocessors are passively cooled and have the lowest thermal design power (TDP) of the Intel Xeon Phi product family.
The Intel Xeon Phi Coprocessor 7100 family provides the most features and the highest performance and memory capacity of the Intel Xeon Phi product family. This family supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology 1.0, which increases core frequencies during peak workloads when thermal conditions allow. Passive and no thermal solution options enable powerful and innovative computing solutions."
If you are using these cards for development, you will find that there are a huge amount of resources available to you on Intel's website that will get you started on compiling your own code.
Intel keeps a list of what is called "Code Recipes for Intel Xeon Phi Coprocessor," which are downloadable code and "recipes" to help you build and run these. Driver support for these cards comes with several Lunix distros like Redhat and many different versions of Windows, such as Windows 8.1 and server OS'. Intel has done a great job providing drivers and tools for Windows based systems; in fact, it is about the easiest way to get your system up and running using these cards.
For our tests, we will use the 3120A Xeon Phi coprocessor. It is simply a 57 many core processor with 6GB of DDR5 memory running embedded Linux OS called uOS.
The CPU inside the Xeon Phi is referred to as a Many Integrated Core (MIC) coprocessor, or as "Mike." The Xeon Phi card itself has a System Management Controller (SMC), thermal sensors (inlet air, outlet air, coprocessor on-die thermal, and single GDDR5 sensor), and a cooling fan for the 3120A.
We wanted to take one of these cards apart to show the insides, but thought better of that because we have to return them. However, here you can see an exploded diagram showing how these cards are put together.
From Intel's website, we can find exactly what the PCB looks like for a typical Xeon Phi card.
The next two photos show the front and back of our 3120A samples. They look very much like a typical GPU that you might add your system.
Here we see the back of the 3120A. If you notice, these cards are made from high quality parts, including a nice metal back plate, and plastic insulation to protect the covered areas.
There is a bracket to facilitate full- size cards, which aids in securing them in the case. These are mounted by four screws, and can be removed if necessary.
The power connections are very much like any GPU that we would use for graphics. 1x eight-pin and 1x six-pin power connectors provide the needed power for these cards.
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