Intel and Sandia National Laboratories have demonstrated a supercomputer that can make one trillion calculations per second, a milestone in high-performance computing.
The chip vendor built the 1.06 teraflop massively parallel processing machine as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) and demonstrated it to DOE officials using the Linpack benchmark. The 10-year ASCI initiative aims to use supercomputers to simulate nuclear bomb testing, as an alternative to underground testing. Under the same initiative, IBM and another DOE laboratory, Lawrence Livermore, are scheduled to build a 3 teraflop system by 1998. Silicon Graphics Inc.-subsidiary Cray Reasearch Inc. and the national lab at Los Alamos are scheduled to develop a 3-teraflop machine by the end of 1998, and an ancillary 1-teraflop machine by late 1999.
The Intel-Sandia machine uses 7264 Pentium Pro processors and when the US$55m contract is completed by the middle of next year, that number will rise to more than 9000, boosting performance to 1.4 teraflops at a sustained rate, with peak speeds of nearly 2 teraflops. Currently, the fastest supercomputer, made by Hitachi Ltd., runs at 368.2 gigaflops, says Howard High, Intel spokesman. Other vendors have announced systems that can potentially scale to the teraflop range but Intel believes it is the first to build and demonstrate such a system for a customer.
"In the area of high performance computing, actual computing performance is the measure," High says. "It's easy for all of us to talk these very high numbers. It's not as easy for us to execute on them."
Intel backed away from selling commercially branded supercomputing systems earlier this year, shifting its focus to supplying building blocks to the high-performance computing market, just as it does the PC and other markets.
"What Intel would rather do is prove the concept and sell the subassemblies, and have others choose to carry their logo on the outside and use Intel inside," says Rich Partridge, research analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. "They're doing this as much for reputation and for building the belief that you can still be a high performance computing player and a large commercial player, too, with the same building blocks."
Another analyst, however, pointsout that the computer is not a general purpose machine, even though it is based on Intel's Pentium Pro processors. The system could also probably be used for something like weather forecasting or gene sequencing, but "not many problems scale to that degree," according to Debra Goldfarb, vice president of workstations and high performance systems at International Data Corp. "You're not going to be running accounting on this machine," Goldfarb said.
Intel is building the system at its Beaverton, Oregon plant, and will be installing it in pieces at Sandia's New Mexico facility during the first half of next year.
Sandia, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can be reached at on the World Wide Web at http://www.sandia.gov/. Intel, headquartered in Santa Clara, California, can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.intel.com/.