Virtual supercomputing falls over

700-laptop University gym machine doesn't quite make the grade
Written by Jo Best, Contributor on

700-laptop University gym machine doesn't quite make the grade

A project at San Francisco University to create a virtual supercomputer by connecting up the computing power of a thousand laptops met with a slight problem when it was created on Saturday - it didn't quite get up to speed.

The idea was to make a spontaneous supercomputer from 1,000 portables that would work on a complex algebra problem, break a record then be dismantled.

On Friday, when the supercomputer was set to go live, 700 people turned up and 669 of them were able to be linked together. The project, however, didn't make it up to record-breaking speed. When working fastest, it managed to get three-quarters of the way through its calculations before falling over.

A stripped-down version without the "flaky computers" that had dogged the project completed the calculation but at a reduced speed. It was hoped that the on-the-fly computer would make it into the top 500 fastest machines of all time but its top speed was around half the record breaker's - it racked up 180 billion floating point operations per second (flops) compared to the 403 billion flops needed to make it to the bottom of the table.

As well as making their mark in supercomputing history, the students had hoped to boost the acceptance of the technology. Gregory Benson, assistant professor of computer science for the university, wrote on the supercomputing website: "There's a goal here: to make a supercomputer that can compete with the most expensive supercomputers in the world". "We want to make supercomputers more accessible," he added.

The supercomputing attempt took place in the University's gym and was followed by some linked-up gaming.

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