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Virginia Tech's G5 Supercomputer Could Rank #2 In The World

Virginia Tech's G5 Supercomputer Could Rank #2 In The World

by , 8:00 AM EDT, October 13th, 2003

The much-talked-about supercomputer that Virginia Tech is making from 1100 dual processor Power Mac G5s may be the second fastest super computer in the world. This comes to us in part through a very interesting article the BBC has published on Virginia Tech's project, which has unofficially been dubbed "Big Mac," according to the BBC. The article says that the supercomputer cluster is capable of calculating 17.6 trillion floating point operations per second, or 17.6 Teraflops (TFlops), a ranking that puts it several TFlops above the current #2 ranked computer. From the BBC:

Supercomputers - everyone would love one but with a price tag of around $100 million each they're not easy to come by. But in the United States staff and students at Virginia Tech have built one of the world's most powerful Supercomputers for a cool 5 million dollars. It's all to do with plugging together smaller machines. Ian Hardy went to Virginia to see the supermachine for himself.

This is the project that has caused heads to turn in the world of Supercomputing. It is, in fact, 1100 brand new Apple G5 towers placed side by side making it the world's most powerful homebuilt system , capable of 17.6 trillion floating point operations per second, with a combined storage capacity of 176 terabytes.


Arguably Virginia Tech has revolutionized the world of Supercomputing with a simplistic setup that can be duplicated around the globe by other institutions.

Hassan Aref , Dean of Engineering: " We're going to document how we did this from start to finish and if you want to build one we'll send them a kit and tell them how to do it. "

While the BBC doesn't point out is potential placement, a look at the June 2003 list from shows the following:

Screen Shot from's June 2003 Listing

There's much more information on each of those systems at, but note that the #1 ranked system, NEC's Earth Simulator, can push 35.86 TFlops, while the #2 LANL system at Los Alamos can push 13.88 TFlops. If verifies Virginia Tech's Big Mac supercomputer at 17.6 TFlops, that could well qualify the system as the world's new second fastest supercomputer. That said, we must stress that the numbers mentioned by the BBC are not numbers from, and have not at all been confirmed.

There's more information on Virginia Tech's project in the full BBC article.

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The Mac Observer Spin:

Just for the sake of argument, let's say that Big Mac ends up being rated at something more like 10 TFlops, or even 7.5 TFlops. That sort of performance will still land the system in the Top 5, but what's really going to play well for Apple (and Virginia Tech) is that Big Mac was put together for some US$5 million. That's a tiny fraction (1/70th) of the cost of the Earth Simulator, which cost US$350 million, according to a San Jose Mercury News report in July of 2002. The same report says that the #4 ranked system, ASCI White, cost US$110 million. In addition, putting Big Mac together took a mere three months.

Those are hard core numbers that could frankly shake up the supercomputing industry. More importantly, this could propel Apple forward in this somewhat exclusive market, and perhaps other markets as well.

Still, it's important to note that Big Mac is not a proven system as of yet. Its rating has not yet been officially released, and it hasn't yet tackled any major computing tasks to our knowledge. Be that as it may, Virginia Tech and Apple both have to be delighted with the sort of publicity this project is generating.

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