Team from Iowa State Wins 2014 MemoCODE Design Contest Using Convey HC-2ex

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Researchers credit the Convey platform’s computational capacity for allowing them to build a winning design

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With FPGAs and the Convey platform, I can design an architecture that ensures my processing elements are working 99% of the time. --Kevin Townsend, graduate student, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Convey Computer, the leader in hybrid-core computing, today announced that a team from Iowa State University won first place in the 2014 MemoCODE Conference* design contest. Using a Convey HC-2ex, the team’s solution achieved the highest overall performance in the contest—more than 14 times faster than the second place finisher.

Experts from all segments of the commercial and academic world embarked upon the month long challenge, using a variety of design tools, hardware and software. This year’s contest addressed the problem of k-nearest neighbor (k-NN). This particular challenge is often used in pattern recognition and machine learning applications to determine how a new data point relates to previously known data points. For example, biomedical applications may use the k-NN algorithm to find past or current hospital patients similar to a given new patient, using correlations in data to improve the success of treatment options.

Kevin Townsend, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, used a Convey HC-2ex with field-programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture to win the contest. He is advised by Iowa State professors Phillip Jones and Joseph Zambreno. Both professors codirect the Reconfigurable Computing Lab (RCL) at Iowa State University. Established in 2008, the RCL conducts highly innovative research in many collaborative areas of reconfigurable computing and embedded systems and provides a state-of-the-art environment for pursuing research and teaching activity in these areas.

For the k-NN design challenge, the Iowa State team chose a brute force implementation to accelerate the contest problem, allowing them to compute approximately 2.4 trillion integer operations per second and achieving a runtime of 0.54 seconds. “Using the Convey hybrid-core platform, our winning solution (which took 1.07 seconds) was 14 times faster than the second place winner,” explained Townsend. “Since winning the contest, we have continued to accelerate the problem; our current solution is even faster – we achieved a speed up of 28 times faster.”

Townsend went on to say that he credits Convey’s hybrid-core architecture with field-programmable gate arrays because the platform allowed him to build the winning design. “Currently GPUs can perform up to around 4 trillion operations per second; the problem is that it's often hard to realize even 10% of that performance. With FPGAs and the Convey platform, I can design an architecture that ensures my processing elements are working 99% of the time.”

Townsend also revealed, “One of the ways my architecture gets high efficiency is by reusing data to minimize memory bandwidth needs. The architecture uses less than 1/4th of the available 80 GB/s available memory bandwidth.”

The 2014 MemoCODE design contest win by the team from Iowa State is the second win for the group. They also won the 2012 MemoCODE contest.

According to Zambreno, the Convey platform and high performance reconfigurable computing fits comfortably into the RCL’s mission. “Design contests such as the MemoCODE challenge are a good way to benchmark ourselves, our skill set, our platform, and our ability to turn around a design in a relatively short timeframe.”

About Convey Computer Corporation
Convey breaks power, performance and programmability barriers with the world’s first hybrid-core computer—a system that marries the low cost and simple programming model of a commodity system with the performance of a customized hardware architecture. Using the Convey hybrid-core systems, customers worldwide in industries such as life sciences, research, big data, and the government/military are enjoying order of magnitude performance increases.

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*Townsend will be presenting his method at the 12th ACM/IEEE
International Conference on Formal Methods and Models for Codesign, (MEMOCODE'14). The conference is being held at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland on October 19-21, 2014.

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