- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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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