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AMD gains, Intel fights back on supercomputer list

Some joy for both chipmakers in the latest Top500 supercomputer list, which rates high-performance computing systems.

Advanced Micro Devices has gained ground on Intel in a list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers, but Intel's new Xeon 5100 "Woodcrest" processor has quickly carved out a place for itself.

The number of systems using Intel processors dropped from 301 in June's version of the twice-yearly Top500 supercomputer list to 263 on the new list, released at the SC06 supercomputing show in Tampa, Fla., on Monday. AMD-based systems increased from 81 to 113 in the same period.

The trend in the supercomputing area reflects AMD's market share victories over rival Intel. But Intel's Woodcrest processor, which has helped the chipmaker reverse its general decline in server market share since it was released in June, has already arrived in 31 systems on the supercomputer list.

Four researchers--Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim in Germany; Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville--compile the Top500 list and present it at supercomputing shows. It's based on an incomplete but useful measure of system performance, a speed test called Linpack. For the Linpack benchmark, results are measured in trillions or calculations per second, or teraflops.

The top system on the list is again IBM's Blue Gene/L, with a speed of 280 teraflops. It's one of 93 systems on the overall list, and one of four in the top 10, to use IBM's Power processor.

AMD's Opteron processors are used in Cray's Red Storm system, built at Sandia National Laboratories, which has climbed to the No. 2 position with a speed of 101.4 teraflops.

The majority of systems on the Top500 list use clusters, which are smaller machines linked together via a high-speed network. Typically, they use mainstream x86 processors; systems using Intel's Itanium chip family slipped from 37 in the June list to 35 this time around.

The list also reflects the hard times that processors outside the mainstream face in high-performance computing. Of the two processor architectures that Hewlett-Packard is phasing out, there are 20 PA-RISC systems on the list and 3 Alpha systems. Sun Microsystems is trying to reinvigorate its Sparc family, but all Sun's 10 systems on the list use x86 chips such as AMD's Opteron. The three Sparc systems are Fujistu models using Sun's Sparc64 processor.