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Army supercomputing drafts Intel, AMD

Research lab buys massive supercomputers with 64-bit chips from both chipmakers.

In one race to sell 64-bit x86 chips to high-performance computing customers, Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices both won.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has elected to buy an IBM supercomputer with 2,304 AMD Opteron processors, the companies plan to announce Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. The news comes a few months after Linux Networx announced that the same lab is buying a machine with 2,132 of Intel's new "Nocona" model Xeon processors.

The Nocona chips, introduced in numerous servers Monday, are Intel's first server chips to include the 64-bit extensions that AMD pioneered with its Opteron chips. The 64-bit abilities make it easier to handle more than 4GB of memory.

The Army will use the systems at its Major Shared Resource Center, one of four sites used for Department of Defense supercomputing needs such as basic science, weapons design and chemical-reactions research.

The IBM system, made of dual-processor machines running SuSE Linux from Novell, are connected with high-speed networking gear from Myricom into a supercomputing cluster. It's expected to have computational capacity of 10 trillion calculations per second, or 10 teraflops, a level reached by only a few computers today.

Meanwhile, Silicon Graphics Inc., which is emphasizing Intel's other 64-bit chip family, Itanium, announced another cluster customer. The University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute purchased a system with eight of SGI's Altix 350 computers, each with eight Itanium 2 processors and the Linux operating system. The cluster is connected with an InfiniBand switch from Voltaire.