"We continue to see [Xeon Phi] as delivering on that promise in the data center and particularly in HPC," Hazra said. The use of Phi chips could expand to tasks like video processing, and in some cases, rendering for the cloud.
To get to exascale, about 40 to 50 gigaflops of performance-per-watt is needed, and the first Phi chip would deliver roughly four to five gigaflops per watt, said John Hengeveld, director of marketing for high-performance computing at Intel.
The company will continue to deliver Phi chips in the future that will deliver better performance-per-watt with every new generation, Hengeveld said. It took four years to jump from one petaflop to 10 petaflops in the world's fastest supercomputers, but only one year to jump from 10 to 20 petaflops, he said, adding that the power-performance curve will continue to improve.
There's always been the need for a specialized chip for specific applications and Knights Corner is effective, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. But whether exascale is achievable by 2018 within a specific power envelop is questionable as the chips are still power hungry.
Exascale computing can ultimately be achieved, but the answer lies in how effectively Intel addresses manufacturing and design issues so chips can deliver the necessary performance per watt, McGregor said.
The first Xeon Phi chip, also called Knights Corner, is made using the 22-nanometer process, which is the same manufacturing technology used to make some of the latest Core laptop and desktop processors. The chip sits in a PCI-Express 2.0 slot and combines vector processing units with standard CPU cores.
Intel has been talking about the Knights Corner chip -- then called the MIC (many integrated cores) chip -- since 2010. The chip came out of Intel's research and development laboratory, and was designed with size, complexity and power consumption in mind.
"They started that with very small dumb cores," McGregor said.
Price and availability for Knights Corner was not announced. Intel's Hengeveld said further details about the chip will be provided last this year.