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IBM dominates supercomputer rankings

By several measures, IBM has taken a strong lead in the latest ranking of the top 500 supercomputers, pushing Intel aside to take the No. 1 spot.

By several measures, IBM has taken a strong lead in the latest ranking of the top 500 supercomputers.

IBM displaced Intel to take the No. 1 spot in the latest version of the Top500 list, released Friday before the SC 2000 supercomputing conference in Dallas. The top machine, called ASCI White, has 8,192 CPUs, weighs 106 tons and takes up two basketball courts' worth of floor space.

IBM has five of the top 10 machines, up from two in the last version of the list six months ago. The total number of IBM systems increased from 144 to 215, the largest for any manufacturer. And IBM computers account for 43 percent of the combined power of the 500 machines, up from 29 percent six months ago.

Sun Microsystems, with a supercomputer push of its own and 92 systems on the list, won second place. SGI's 67 machines placed it in third. Newly independent Cray had 47 for fourth place, but its comparatively powerful systems accounted for 16 percent of the list's total power, placing it second after IBM in that measure. With 23 systems on the list, NEC took fifth place.

Intel's ASCI Red machine was at the top of the list for at least two years, but Intel never followed up with a supercomputer program of its own.

"IBM is dominating the Top500," said University of Tennessee computer scientist Erich Strohmaier, one of the compilers of the list.

But there's a catch.

The list is based on a mathematical calculation speed test called Linpack, but most agree the measurement is imperfect because it doesn't necessarily show how well a supercomputer will work in the real world. It's like the difference between how fast a video card can draw triangles and how fast it will run "Doom."

To amend the situation, the Top500 organizers, computer makers and industry research firm IDC have allied to release a new suite of performance tests.

"The new test suite is intended to supplement limited standard tests such as Linpack...and to eliminate the need to rely on theoretical 'peak performance' figures, which may be nearly meaningless in practice," the organizations said in a statement. Linpack measures CPU speed, but not internal memory, hard disks or networks, Strohmaier said in the statement.

Supercomputers are high-speed machines used to perform heavy-duty computational jobs such as predicting the Earth's climate 50 years from now, modeling car crashes, analyzing the stock market or simulating next-generation CPUs. The top four computers on the list are sponsored by the Department of Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) program to model nuclear weapons explosions.

IBM is aggressively pushing its SP model Unix servers, hoping that customers such as biotech companies or banks will buy the machines.