CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

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CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby Pegasus » Thu May 11, 2017 11:45 am

Since it seems the industry has hit a practical wall with CPU clock speeds about 10 years ago at 2.2-2.5GHz I wonder, if there existed a MIPS based CPU that ran at those speeds if modern software would run well on it, assuming of course 4-8GB of RAM and if said software could be compiled for it? (I know some CPUs are now available at 3.0-4.0GHz but no modern software requires clock speeds that high.)

I guess my underlying question is: if SGI's MIPS workstation line had continued until that clock speed wall, would such a machine still be useful for today's general purpose workloads?
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Re: CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Thu May 11, 2017 12:34 pm

CPU speed has little to do what how a computer actually performs. The fact is that SGI's major development for MIPS stopped at the R10000. The R12, 14 and 16 were mostly process shrinks with subsequent improvements in clock speed, but MIPS for SGI was more about core density than raw speed since their biggest market was HPC.

SGI made a mistake putting their eggs in the Itanium basket, Merced was going to ship sometime in 1997 and the O2k would have had a Merced upgrade available. When Merced failed to materialize on time, SGI dug out the R12000 and process shrinked it to the R14000 and later R16000 while they worked on the R18000, which would have been an actual improvement. The R18000's failure to make it to market meant they took the R16000 and bumped the clock speed to 800-1GHz but doing so massively increased the TDP which meant the practical limit for the R10k line is about 800MHz to 1GHz.

MIPS was outperformed by Alpha and PA-RISC in it's days so it's not like it was a speed daemon to begin with. To update MIPS to be competitive with x64 or POWER would require fixing several issues with MIPS such as code density, tendency to register spill and lack of modern SIMD.

The only reason SGIs feel fast is because their unique architecture helps mask the shortcomings of everything else and the majority of software is from a bygone era. Try to run a modern GTK+ 2 app on it and it falls face first.

So no. SGI was fighting a losing battle once the Pentium Pro hit the scene, a R12000 at 300MHz does well against a Pentium II but the PIII creams all but the highest end R16ks. The Pentium 4, by it's lack of merit and shitty performance does fail at some benchmarks compared to a R16k, but not many.

Besides this, SGI's VPro line is very weak compared to modern day graphics. Namely lack of modern features, slow SDRAM and lack of later OpenGL support is crippling. The InfiniteReality line fares a bit better but VPro is actually faster at several operations, the IR4 only is relevant because it has massive amounts of memory and can thus handle analog HD sources well.
Last edited by Raion-Fox on Fri May 12, 2017 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby Pegasus » Thu May 11, 2017 1:32 pm

Very interesting history, thank you. So is it accurate to say that SGI had a (very profitable) niche because they engineered around many shortcomings to produce machines that excelled at specific tasks years before general PC hardware would be redesigned to overcome those shortcomings? But once that happened (high-power GPU boards + multi-core x64 CPUs,) SGI's niche vanished?
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Re: CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby mia » Thu May 11, 2017 1:34 pm

they missed the turn
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Re: CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby foetz » Thu May 11, 2017 1:51 pm

Raion-Fox wrote:MIPS was outperformed by Alpha and PA-RISC in it's days so it's not like it was a speed daemon to begin with

mips was pretty much on par with pa which both lost to the alpha on int but their fp was really good and could actually beat the alpha in certain cases.
either way even if you put mips below alpha and pa it was still much better than power and sparc at the time.

Pegasus wrote:once that happened (high-power GPU boards + multi-core x64 CPUs,) SGI's niche vanished?

no, sgi became the victim of (intentional) mismanagement. have a look for "Richard Belluzzo".

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Re: CPU catch-up - modern software on a 2.5GHz MIPS CPU useable?

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Thu May 11, 2017 3:19 pm

foetz wrote:mips was pretty much on par with pa which both lost to the alpha on int but their fp was really good and could actually beat the alpha in certain cases.
either way even if you put mips below alpha and pa it was still much better than power and sparc at the time.


Depends on what exact part of the 10 year period we're looking at. PA-RISC did better especially on non-fp.
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