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IBM upgrades Deep Blue

The supercomputer that powered Deep Blue, the RS/6000 SP, gets a faster processor and improved scalability.

IBM (IBM) announced a new version of the RS/6000 SP, the supercomputer that powered Deep Blue. The latest generation of the chess whiz and Web server is armed with a new chip and software that will increase speeds by up to 58 percent and expand scalability.

IBM is touting the computer as a solution for businesses faced with increased network traffic due to network computing and electronic commerce.

The speedier RS/6000 SP features IBM's Power PC 604e microprocessor, a 200-MHz chip that replaces the old 120-MHz 604 chip.

IBM is touting the computer's scalability as much as its speed.

The RS/6000 SP can support up to 512 nodes, or distinct servers, within the centralized system. "That makes it the world's highest scaling Web server," said IBM spokesperson Eric Rosenkrans.

The only 512-node machine currently operating runs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

In practice, the number of nodes supported by an RS/6000 SP is limited by readily available software. The new version of IBM's High Availability Cluster Multiprocessing software for AIX version 4.2.1--IBM's version of Unix--increases clustering support to up to 16 nodes from the current limit of 8. IBM plans to extend that limit still further to 32 nodes in 1998.

Deep Blue used 32 nodes to win its May chess match with grand master Gary Kasparov; Charles Schwab's online trading service uses 20 nodes, according to IBM.

Pricing ranges from $150,000 for a single-node system to several million dollars for all 512 nodes. IBM prices the average system at about $1 million.