Best bang for your buck: GPU nodes for GROMACS biomolecular simulations

Carsten Kutzner, Szilard Pall, Martin Fechner, Ansgar Esztermann, Bert L. de Groot, Helmut Grubmuller
Theoretical and Computational Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Am Fassberg 11, 37077 Gottingen, Germany
arXiv:1507.00898 [cs.DC], (3 Jul 2015)

   title={Best bang for your buck: GPU nodes for GROMACS biomolecular simulations},

   author={Kutzner, Carsten and Pall, Szilard and Fechner, Martin and Esztermann, Ansgar and Groot, Bert L. de and Grubmuller, Helmut},






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The molecular dynamics simulation package GROMACS runs efficiently on a wide variety of hardware from commodity workstations to high performance computing clusters. Hardware features are well exploited with a combination of SIMD, multi-threading, and MPI-based SPMD/MPMD parallelism, while GPUs can be used as accelerators to compute interactions offloaded from the CPU. Here we evaluate which hardware produces trajectories with GROMACS 4.6 or 5.0 in the most economical way. We have assembled and benchmarked compute nodes with various CPU/GPU combinations to identify optimal compositions in terms of raw trajectory production rate, performance-to-price ratio, energy efficiency, and several other criteria. Though hardware prices are naturally subject to trends and fluctuations, general tendencies are clearly visible. Adding any type of GPU significantly boosts a node’s simulation performance. For inexpensive consumer-class GPUs this improvement equally reflects in the performance-to-price ratio. Although memory issues in consumer-class GPUs could pass unnoticed since these cards do not support ECC memory, unreliable GPUs can be sorted out with memory checking tools. Apart from the obvious determinants for cost-efficiency like hardware expenses and raw performance, the energy consumption of a node is a major cost factor. Over the typical hardware lifetime until replacement of a few years, the costs for electrical power and cooling can become larger than the costs of the hardware itself. Taking that into account, nodes with a well-balanced ratio of CPU and consumer-class GPU resources produce the maximum amount of GROMACS trajectory over their lifetime.
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