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SGI to make dual-core Altix in late 2005

The high-performance computer's next edition will be revamped to run Intel's dual-core Itanium chips.

Silicon Graphics Inc. plans to overhaul its high-performance Altix computers a year from now to accommodate dual-core Itanium processors from Intel.

SGI, which specializes in machines for high-performance technical-computing jobs such as aerodynamics simulations, plans to release its next-generation Altix model at the same time that Intel releases its new "Montecito" version of Itanium, said Dave Parry, senior vice president of SGI's server and platform group. That processor is scheduled to debut in the second half of 2005.

The current "Madison" generation of Itanium has a single processing engine, but the Montecito line will have two such engines on a single slice of silicon. All major chip designers have or will release such "dual-core" processors to boost performance.

But dual-core systems need more data from memory, supplied through a pathway called a front-side bus. Current front-side buses lack the bandwidth to supply that data quickly enough. Accordingly, SGI is building a faster new chipset, shub2, with a faster front-side bus for Montecito systems, Parry said.

"Our current systems put two Madison 9M (Itanium) processors on each front-side bus. If we were to drop Montecito into the same place as the 9M, we'd end up with four cores, each more powerful than a 9M, all sharing the same front-side bus," Parry said. "For at least our more demanding bandwidth applications, that's not a choice."

One element that the new Altix will retain is the chip that routes data from one part of the system to another. SGI's machines rely on many of these router chips to connect processors to memory--which can be complex because SGI machines accommodate hundreds of processors.

The next-generation Altix system will reuse the Bx2 router chips that debuted in the latest Altix models, released in November, Parry said.

A year after Montecito arrives, Intel plans to release a faster successor, code-named Montvale. SGI will use that processor as well, Parry added.

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SGI already has a customer for the systems: the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum in Munich, Germany. The computing center will buy a 2,560-processor Montecito system in the first half of 2006, then upgrade that system into a 3,328-processor Montvale system in the spring of 2007, Parry said.

The system is expected to have sustained performance between 57 teraflops and 60 teraflops, or trillion calculations per second, Parry said.

The LRZ will let scientists throughout Germany use the system to study turbulence, fluid flow through porous materials, acoustic waves, high-temperature superconductors, combustion chemistry and the seismic shock waves generated by earthquakes, SGI said. The system is called Hochstleistungsrechner in Bayern, or HLRB-II, replacing an existing Hitachi SR8000 machine at the facility.

SGI now sells more of its newer Altix line based on Intel's Itanium chips and Linux than its Origin line using its own MIPS processors and Irix operating system. HP began developing the Itanium family, but now has transferred all its designers to Intel.

SGI isn't the only one to announce this month the sale of a mammoth European machine. Bull, based in France, said it will sell a Montecito-based machine called Tera10 to the military application department of the French Nuclear Power Agency. That system will have 8,704 processors, 27 terabytes of memory and performance of 60 teraflops, Bull said.

Tera10 is due to be fully installed by the end of 2005.

SGI's major supercomputing competitors are IBM and Hewlett-Packard.