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Virginia Tech beefs up Mac supercomputer

School is the second organization to pre-announce performance claims before the November release of a list of the world's fastest computers.

The fastest Mac supercomputer has gotten faster, thanks to an Xserve makeover.

Virginia Tech plans to announce on Tuesday that its System X now operates at 12.25 teraflops, or 12 trillion calculations per second, up from 10.28 teraflops in its original incarnation, which used 1,100 Power Mac G5 towers. The performance boost comes in large part because Apple Computer has made available to Virginia Tech custom 2.3GHz Xserve machines, which are faster than the 2GHz processors that power Apple's fastest machines. The school also added 50 additional servers, or nodes, to the system.

Apple said last week that the 2.3GHz machines were a one-off deal for Virginia Tech and not something the company plans to announce for broader consumption anytime soon.

"This new number is an increase of almost two teraflops over the original System X," Hassan Aref, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, said in a statement. "We are extremely pleased with the performance, using the new Apple machines."

Virginia Tech is the second organization to pre-announce its performance claims ahead of the November unveiling of a list of the world's fastest supercomputers. Last month, IBM announced that its Blue Gene/L computer had processing power that would place it ahead of NEC's Earth Simulator, which has held the top spot in the rankings since 2002.

Although System X is faster, it is unclear how well the new machine will rank given that a number of new contenders are expected to arrive before the list is made public at a supercomputing conference next month.

"Virginia Tech will learn of its new ranking when the list is unveiled in November of this year at SuperComputing 2004 in Pittsburgh," lead designer Srinidhi Varadarajan said in a statement. "We expect to do well."

System X debuted at No. 3 in the Top500 rankings last November, but it fell off the June list as the school looked to upgrade the system with Xserve servers.

The school said it spent about $600,000 to rebuild the system and add the additional nodes. The original cost of System X was $5.2 million. Apple has also sold a similar system to the U.S. Army.