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Cray's king-of-the-hill supercomputer

The manufacturer announces X1 supercomputer that will leave its fastest counterparts in the dust by offering up to 52.4 trillion mathematical calculations per second.

Cray announced on Thursday a new supercomputer that will leave its fastest counterparts in the dust.

The maker of supercomputers, based in Seattle, says its X1 will offer up to 52.4 teraflops, or trillion mathematical calculations per second. Reaching that level requires 4,098 custom-designed 800MHz Cray processors.

Supercomputers harness the collective power of a large number of processors. Scientists apply this power to predict the weather, conduct experiments or simulate nuclear explosions; companies use it to design and test products such as automobiles and airplanes. The fastest supercomputer in use right now, NEC's Earth Simulator, delivers 35.6 teraflops. It tops a field of some 900 supercomputers ranked by market researcher IDC in May.

Aside from creating the X1 systems, Cray is also under contract to build a supercomputer for Sandia National Laboratories that is capable of 40 teraflops. The machine, dubbed Red Storm, will contain about 10,000 Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors and is scheduled to debut in 2004.

IBM is also working on faster supercomputers, and SGI has introduced a new machine of its own, the Origin 3900.

Ultimately, Cray and others would like to reach a petaflop, or 1,000 trillion mathematical calculations per second. The company said its X1 systems will be able to reach the petaflop mark by 2010.

So far, five early-production X1s have passed tests by the U.S. Army's High Performance Computing Research Center and other customers.

Cray plans to ship the final versions of the X1 later this year. The supercomputer will start at $2.5 million, Cray said. A fully outfitted X1 will likely cost much more, however.

Spain's National Institute of Meteorology, for example, has placed an $8.4 million order for an X1.