Top Supercomputer Nearly Doubles in Speed

By Andy Patrizio (Send Email)
Posted Nov 17, 2009


The fastest land animal may be the cheetah, but when it comes to supercomputers, the fastest kitty of them all is the Jaguar, a Cray supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory powered by AMD Opteron processors. Oak Ridge's Cray system achieved a 69 percent performance gain in just six months in results announced today.

Can a processor upgrade really yield those kinds of results?

The big leap for the big cat came through a processor upgrade. By upgrading from 2.3GHz quad-core Opteron processors to the 2.6GHz six-core Istanbul processor, the Jaguar went from a one petaflop (PF) system to a 1.75 PF system in just six months.

AMD showed a video (here on YouTube) of the upgrade process at its analysts day meeting last week.

The Top 500 is compiled by researchers in Europe and the U.S. and issued twice annually, in June and in November, at supercomputing shows. The SC09 conference is currently taking place in Oregon, where the list was issued.

This is a list of servers most companies, to say nothing of individuals, will never own, but their use potentially impacts all of us. These supercomputer systems are used largely in energy and academic settings for applications like climate simulation, energy research and biological science and drug research.

Some of these systems could fill a basketball court, and the electric bill likely carries out several decimal places. Their scores are based on a benchmark called Linpack, a collection of Fortran subroutines that analyze and solve linear equations and linear least-squares problems.

AMD does well on the top of the list - five of the top 10, 10 of the top 20 - but only has 42 machines total on the list. Intel, on the other hand, powers 402 of the 500 machines on the list, including three in the top 10. Nehalem generation Xeons are in 21 of the top 100, a good showing for a processor less than a year old.

The most powerful supercomputer running Intel processors is in at number five, the Chinese supercomputer Milky Way, which used a combination of Nehalem and pre-Nehalem Xeons along with 2560 ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards to build the first petaflop computer outside the U.S. and the first to use graphics processors.

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