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HP ascends supercomputer list

A supercomputer for simulating nuclear explosions advances Hewlett-Packard's position in a ranking of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

A supercomputer for simulating nuclear explosions has advanced Hewlett-Packard's position in a ranking to be released Thursday night of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

Two segments of HP's ASCI Q system, built as part of the Energy Department's Advanced Simulation and Computing program to substitute computer calculations for full-fledged nuclear tests, took the second and third spots in the ranking.

The new systems, being built at Los Alamos National Laboratory, bumped IBM's ASCI White two spots down the list. NEC's Earth Simulator remains No. 1, with nearly five times the total computing power of each ASCI Q segment.

While HP also maintained its lead over IBM in the sheer number of computers on the list--138 altogether--Big Blue extended its lead in the fraction of the total processing power of the 500 machines. In other words, IBM built fewer systems, but those 134 machines are collectively more powerful.

IBM computers accounted for 33 percent of the total processing power in the June 2002 list and 39 percent in the November 2002 list, continuing a steady increase. HP's position stayed level at 22 percent.

The list is compiled by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Germany's University of Mannheim, and is updated twice a year.

The number of "terascale" computers--those that can perform more than a trillion calculations per second--more than doubled since June, increasing from 23 to 47.

The supercomputing industry has entered a frenzy of activity in anticipation of the beginning of the SC2002 supercomputer show in Baltimore on Monday.

Cray announced a 4,096-processor behemoth Thursday. SGI improved its top-end systems with the release of the Origin 3900 on Monday. Advanced Micro Devices, known mostly for building processors that are popular with consumers, is building a system at Sandia National Laboratories.

HP's top-end Superdome Unix server starting showing a presence on the list in June 2001. Now individual Superdomes aren't powerful enough, but there now dozens of "hyperplex" configurations, small clusters of Superdomes linked with a high-speed network.

Sun Microsystems also has dramatically increased its presence with its Sun Fire 15K "Starcat" server. Sun had 37 systems in the June 2002 list, but wider adoption of the Sun Fire 15K system has given Sun 88 places on the November 2002 list. None of those systems, however, ranks very high. The first Sun Fire 15K appears at No. 173; almost all of the rest swept places 379 through 460.

The Top 500 list is based on a performance yardstick called Linpack, a calculation that represents some aspects of supercomputer capability. In an effort to create a better benchmark, though, market research firm IDC, along with the Top 500 organizers and supercomputer sellers, has created a different measurement called the IDC Balanced Rating intended to reflect real-world performance more accurately.