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IBM soups up its supercomputer

IBM will introduce a new version of its RS/6000 SP supercomputer tomorrow that uses Big Blue's faster copper chips.

IBM will introduce a new version of its RS/6000 SP supercomputer tomorrow that uses Big Blue's faster copper chips.

A version of the new model with 1,152 Power3-II processors will be installed at the San Diego Supercomputing Center, a source familiar with the plan said. The computer will be available for use by the U.S. academic researchers.

The supercomputer market is small but prestigious. IBM and others are pushing to have their high-powered computers used more in businesses as well as scientific and technical institutions, using the argument that companies will be able to analyze data to uncover sales trends, fraud or other subtle information lurking in databases.

For its SP supercomputers, IBM uses a high-speed switch to connect dozens of "nodes" together. The method was used for the Deep Blue computer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov and for the Blue Pacific nuclear weapons simulator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In addition, IBM is pushing ahead with its supercomputer philosophy with a high-speed switch for a new nuclear weapons computer called ASCI White and with unusual processors for its Blue Gene program.

However, IBM faces competition not only from traditional players such as SGI, but also from Sun Microsystems, which has its own method for designing a supercomputer that it says can run software without requiring extensive rewriting.