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AMD chips in with Cray for world's fastest computer

Things can only get peta

The world's first commercial one-petaflops supercomputer has been commissioned, Cray announced on Thursday.

Codenamed "Baker", the 24,000-socket, Opteron-based Linux system is due to be installed at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2008. This will join existing Cray supercomputer systems to be used for research in neutron science, biological systems, energy production and advanced materials. the company said. It will also be available to outside companies such as Boeing, DreamWorks and Harvard University.

"Without a doubt, this is a great day for Cray," said Cray president and chief executive Peter Ungaro in a statement. "Cray supercomputers were first to achieve gigaflops sustained performance in 1989, and first to break the sustained teraflops barrier in 1998."

The exact configuration of "Baker" has yet to be decided, as it depends on the processing and thermal performance of Opterons yet to be announced. However, it will be based around dual-core processors in four-socket SMP nodes, with AMD's HyperTransport bus linked to Cray's own SeaStar 3D interconnect system. The Linux operating system component will be heavily modified to minimise the amount of extraneous conversation between processors, leaving as much bandwidth as possible for data. As is normal for supercomputer science applications, the primary programming languages will be Fortran and C.

A one-petaflops supercomputer can make a million billion high-precision calculations per second using real-world numbers. The fastest commercial supercomputer in public operation today, IBM's BlueGene/L, uses 65,536 custom PowerPC cores to achieve 367 teraflops, or around a third of a petaflops.

Cray said that the "Baker" installation is part of a $200m (£108m) deal that also includes upgrading Oak Ridge's existing Cray XT3 system — also Linux-Opteron — to 250 teraflops. "Baker" will combine elements of the XT3 design with aspects of Cray's other two main system architectures as part of a streamlining of the company's product lines.

Cray has had mixed fortunes recently, with losses last year of $64m on sales of $200m, although it has successfully fought off a threat of NASDAQ delisting and a class action from disgruntled investors.