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It's Official: Virginia Tech's 'Big Mac' Is #3 Fastest Supercomputer (Fastest-Ever Cluster)

It's Official: Virginia Tech's 'Big Mac' Is #3 Fastest Supercomputer (Fastest-Ever Cluster)

by , 9:30 AM EST, November 17th, 2003

It's official: The 1,100 clustered Apple G5 PowerMacs that comprise Virginia Tech's "Big Mac" supercomputer is indeed the third fastest supercomputer in the world according to the current ranking displayed at the Supercomputer Conference 2003 held Sunday in Phoenix, AZ. While being #3 in the world when compared to dedicated supercomputers and supercomputing clusters combined, Big Mac currently ranks as the fastest ever supercomputing cluster.

If you've been keeping up with the news on Big Mac, then you know that the last speed test the relatively inexpensive assemblage of Apple's professional desktop offering posted a whopping 10.28 Teraflops (TFlops), some 60% of its theoretical limit of 17 TFlops, but only the third supercomputer or supercomputing cluster to break the 10 TFlop barrier. In its press release announcing the new rankings, Top500.org says that seven of the Top 10 systems are supercomputing clusters:

The list of cluster systems in the TOP10 has grown impressively to seven systems. These systems are built with workstations or PCs as building blocks and often connected by special high-speed internal networks. The number of clusters in the full TOP500 grew also again strongly, now totaling 208 systems   up from 149 six months ago. This makes clustered systems the most common computer architecture seen in the TOP500. The importance of this market can also be seen by the fact that most manufacturers are now active in this market segment.

The number two position is again held by the ASCI Q system at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. ASCI Q was built by Hewlett-Packard and is based on the AlphaServer SC computer system. With 13.88 Tflop/s, it was the second system ever to exceed the 10 Tflop/s mark.

The third system ever to exceed the 10 TFflop/s mark is Virgina Tech's X Cluster Institute measured at 10.28 TFlop/s. This cluster is built with the Apple G5 as building blocks. It uses a Mellanox network based on the new Infinband technology as interconnect.

The world of supercomputer ranking is like the weather, however; if you wait long enough, it will change. IBM is currently working on a new supercomputer called Blue Gene/L. As the name suggests, the supercomputer is being targeted at genetic research. What is making it newsworthy, however, is its theoretical upper speed limit of 360 TFlops, which is 10 times faster than the current speed champ, Japan's 35 TFlop Earth Simulator.

When it comes to cost, however, Virginia Tech's speed demon is the king: Big Mac cost a mere US$5.2 million. Compare that to the US$300 - US$400 million price tag for Earth Simulator, the second fastest supercomputer, ASCI Q, which cost US$150 million, or IBM's impending speed leader, Blue Gene/L, which could ultimately cost around US$300 million.

For more information about the Supercomputer Conference 2003 and the Top500 List of Supercomputers, stop by the Top500 Supercomputer Web site, or read the organization's press release.

The Mac Observer Spin:

There you have it, folks; 1100 G5 PowerMacs, US$5.2 million, and 10.3 TFlops. Those are solid numbers that VA Tech and Apple should be proud of.

For those keeping count, the 4th fastest supercomputer is a Dell cluster of 1,450 PowerEdge 1750 Servers (dual Xeon, 3.06GHZ) running RedHat. Operated by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chanpaign, 'Tungsten' managed a sustained processing speed of 9.8 TFlops.

Let's see: Apple's system is faster, but it has fewer processors running at 2/3 the clock speed of the Dell system. We'd make a cost comparison too, but we couldn't find any information on how much NCSA paid for Tungsten, but even if the cost is comparable, the fact that an Apple system publicly outranks a comparable Dell system can't sit very well with Michael Dell.

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