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Lab soups up Linux supercomputer

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory computer has 1,400 Itanium 2 processors

By Robert McMillan, IDG News Service
August 27, 2003 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - An Intel Itanium 2 supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has edged out Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Intel Xeon-based Multiprogrammatic Capability Cluster for the title of world's fastest Linux supercomputer, according to the PNNL.
The PNNL yesterday announced that it had completed an upgrade of the 1,400 1-GHz Itanium 2 McKinley processors in its William W. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory supercomputer in Richland, Wash., boosting the system's peak performance from 6.2 trillion floating-point operations per second (TFLOPS) to 11.8 TFLOPS. The new processors run at 1.5 GHz and are based on Intel Corp.'s follow-up to its McKinley design, which is called Madison.
"It's about 11,800 times faster than the average personal computer," said Scott Studham, the PNNL Molecular Science Computing Facility's manager of computer operations. "Most computers have between 250MB and 1GB of memory. This one has 7,000GB of memory."
Linux has emerged in the past few years as an increasingly popular operating system for the highly technical supercomputer market. In the past month, Dell Inc. announced plans to build a 17.7 TFLOPS Xeon system for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and IBM, Fujitsu Ltd. and Cray Inc. all are building Linux supercomputers in the 11 TFLOPS to 40 TFLOPS range.
The PNNL's upgrade process took just over a month, with a team of 10 Hewlett-Packard Co. employees on-site unpacking and installing about 250 Madison microprocessors into the Labs' McKinley-based rx2600 machines each week. "On a weekly basis, a semi truck with processors would show up," said Studham, who claims to have developed more than a passing familiarity with the CPU upgrade process. "I can personally tell you that there are four screws required to take out an Itanium 2 CPU," he said.
The 3,000-square-foot, $24.5 million system will be used for a variety of computationally intensive tasks at the labs, such as studying basic chemistry and biology and modeling how leaked radioactive material might move underground.
For this kind of science, the Itanium 2's floating-point performance of 6 billion operations per second made it a better fit than Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s rival Opteron processor, Studham said. "It was important for us to build out of the fastest processor we could get," he said. Studham estimated that the labs would have needed 1,000 more processors to achieve the same level of floating-point performance with an Opteron-based supercomputer.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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