AMD, IBM Lose Ground to Intel in Latest Top 500 List

The news last year at this time from the University of Mannheim was the surge of supercomputers with relatively simple 2.4 GHz AMD Opteron processors, among the school's list of the world's Top 500 Supercomputers. So if big shifts qualify as news, then AMD has to face the music this time around with the release this week of the November list: Its fastest supercomputer on the list no longer rates #2, but #6; and instead of 113 AMD-based systems on the full list, there are now just 79.

Meanwhile, the mighty BlueGene/L from Lawrence Livermore Labs not only retains its champion status but surges into the stratosphere. Since last year, it's only gotten bigger, adding to its Power-based processing bulk by more than 39%, to 212,992 simultaneous cores. The payoff was swift and immediate: BlueGene/L turned in an Rmax rating of 478,200 gigaflops per second - a 30.3% speed gain over last year and the year before, and nearly halfway to the cherished teraflop goal post.

Twice each year, the rankings of 500 of the world's supercomputers are assessed by the University of Mannheim in association with Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their figures are then sorted by tested clusters' maximal observed peak performance, in gigaflops (GFlops, or billions of floating-point operations per second). This performance is called the "Rmax rating," although Mannheim does publish theoretical mean performance as a comparison.

Taking a cue from Livermore Labs on the Power upgrade path was a machine built for the J'lich Research Center in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, which last year at this time placed a respectable #13. But it's the star of the day today at #2, after having installed 38,992 more cores to turn in an Rmax score of 167,300, a gain of 65%.

Intel-based processors walked away with one, if not two, lions' shares worth of the Top 500 list, with a staggering 354 total systems. A Silicon Graphics machine, believe it or not, gave Intel its best performer at the #3 spot. Built for the New Mexico Computing Applications Center, the Altix ICE 8200 cluster recorded an Rmax score of 126,900, and is based on a Xeon 5000-series Dempsey core - actually an older model. Intel also posted the #4 and #5 positions in the Top 10.

But that was the only Dempsey-based system on the list, as the Woodcrest cores that debuted last year so strongly for Intel commanded 215 positions, and the company's latest Clovertown architecture (Xeon 5300 series) wrested control of 102 slots.

EM64T architecture systems (Intel x86) constituted 322 of its systems on the list, with 13 32-bit Itanium systems (IA-32) and 19 64-bit Itaniums. That's actually a steep drop from last year, when a full 154 systems in the Top 500 sported Itaniums.

And while IBM holds on to that top prize, its overall hold on the entire list has actually slipped as well. Just 61 Power architecture systems hold fort this fall, compared with 91 last fall. Among the Top 15, IBM holds on to #1, #2, #8, and numbers 10-13.

Sadly, last year's phenomenal Cray Red Storm built for Sandia National Labs, which catapulted to the #2 spot, was absent from this year's testing altogether. Cray supercomputers only managed to clinch the #72 and #80 positions this time.

If you've noticed how cold it's getting in the server rooms these days of all these big systems, you might also have noticed a gathering abundance of penguin tracks. This time around, 460 of the Top 500 systems were running one flavor of Linux or another, including all of the Top 10. UNIX operating systems powered 31 on the list, with Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 powering a meager 6. The fastest Windows machine on the list, coming in this time at #116, was a Dell PowerEdge 1955 with 2,048 processors, built at Microsoft; its score was 11750.

The fastest Mac of the two that made it was #69, an Xserve cluster built for COLSA Corp. in Huntsville, Alabama, with a score of 16180.


IBM's BlueGene/L Supercomputer, built for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.

Continuing its Michael Jordan-style winning streak: IBM's venerable BlueGene/L, built for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories by Watson Research Center. Since this picture was taken, though, we're told BlueGene/L's put on some weight. (Courtesy IBM)

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