- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003


Supercomputing is moving into the commercial realm as nearly half the machines on this year’s list of the fastest computers were built from clusters of cheaper, off-the-shelf processors — including the new No. 3, a supercomputer assembled with 1,100 Apple computers.

Virginia Tech researchers and students assembled the supercomputer with new Macintosh G5 processors in less than a month. It is now the world’s third-fastest machine, said computer specialists meeting this week in Arizona.

Clocked at 10.3 trillion operations per second, the cluster of G5 Power Macs is the first Apple Computer-based system to rank among the speediest.

It’s also one of the cheapest. The homemade system, named “X” by Tech, cost about $7 million to build and maintain. Traditional supercomputers can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Commercial processors have gotten more powerful quickly,” said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee professor who designed the supercomputer ranking system. “They’re catching up with the more high-performance machines.”

The list of the top 500 supercomputers was released yesterday at a supercomputing conference in Phoenix. A consortium of computer specialists has compiled the list twice a year since 1993.

Ahead of Tech’s X is a $215 million Hewlett-Packard computer at Los Alamos National Laboratory that can complete 13.9 trillion operations per second. The fastest machine is the Earth Simulator Center in Japan, which cost at least $250 million and can run 35.9 trillion operations per second.

Each of the 1,100 Macs in Tech’s X computer has two 64-bit IBM PowerPC 970 microprocessors. The processors are connected by a high-speed network called Infiniband that allows them to break up major calculations and analyze each part at the same time.

While its first measurements are impressive, X hasn’t proved it can handle a wide range of applications. To be successful, supercomputers need to perform well in a variety of situations.

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