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HP dents IBM supercomputer dominance

Big Blue seizes six of the top 10 spots in a list of the 500 fastest supercomputers, but Hewlett-Packard's new Superdome machines carve a new niche on the list.

IBM has seized six of the top 10 spots in a list of the 500 fastest supercomputers, but Hewlett-Packard's new Superdome machines have carved a new niche on the list.

A new version of the independent Top 500 list, to be released Thursday, shows HP's Superdome model giving its Palo Alto, Calif., manufacturer 41 of the 500 places on the list. Though the places are fairly low--most of them in the 500 to 300 range--the systems helped undercut IBM's gradually increasing dominance on the list.

The fastest machine on the list is IBM's ASCI White, a nuclear-weapons simulation machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though it was already fast enough to top the list, engineers boosted its performance from 4.9 trillion to 7.2 trillion mathematical calculations per second.

The Top 500 list is released every six months at a supercomputing conference--in this case, SC2001 in Heidelberg, Germany. Performance is measured by a mathematical test called "Linpack," but list organizers are working to come up with a measurement that better reflects how well the supercomputers work in real life.

HP's presence on the list mostly came from 64-processor Superdome machines. However, the two faster HP machines were "hyperplex" configurations that link more than one Superdome. Volkswagen bought one such system, a 120-processor model, and DaimlerChrysler bought another with 176 processors.

Superdome allowed HP to increase its presence from five to 41 computers on the list. That growth took place at the expense of all the top companies on the list: IBM, which dropped from 215 to 201; Sun Microsystems, which dropped from 92 to 81; SGI, which dropped from 67 to 63; Cray, which dropped from 47 to 45; and NEC, which dropped from 23 to 18.

IBM's overall dominance continues, though. Its new No. 2 machine, with a top speed of 2.5 trillion calculations per second, is at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, where it will be used to study subjects such as car-engine efficiency, climate change, astrophysics and new materials.