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Low-Cost Supercomputer Is Among World's Fastest

A unit built from 1,100 Apple Macs has achieved a speed of 8.7 teraflops, putting it in line to be the third fastest in the world--at a fraction of the cost of the two machines ahead of it.
A supercomputer built from 1,100 Apple Macs by faculty and students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute has achieved a speed of 8.7 trillion operations per second, surpassing a result reported earlier this week and putting the computer in line to be the world's third fastest.

Jason Lockhart, director of high-performance computing at the college of engineering at Virginia Tech, said Friday that the supercomputer, built for a little more than $5 million, is running the Linpack benchmark at a sustained speed of 8.7 teraflops, eclipsing a result of 7.41 teraflops achieved in earlier tests. That would place it third on a closely watched list of the world's fastest supercomputer--trailing only an NEC system called the Earth Simulator in Japan and ASCI Q, a Hewlett-Packard supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory--at a fraction of the cost.

The official results of the Top 500 list maintained by the universities of Tennessee and Mannheim, Germany, are expected to be announced at a supercomputing conference in Phoenix next month.

The Virginia Tech system was assembled from off-the-shelf Apple Macintosh computers running 2,200 64-bit IBM microprocessors. "We wanted price-performance," Lockhart says. The IBM processors in Apple's G5 Macs cost one-tenth as much as Intel's Itanium 2 processor and also less than a 64-bit chip from Advanced Micro Devices, he says. About 10 faculty members at Virginia Tech are expected to start writing code for the machine early next year.