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Silicon Graphics will debut a 128-node, single system image NUMA system at the Supercomputing 2002 show next week, cranking up the density of the Origin series.

For a while now, SGI has hinted that the low power, low thermal characteristics of the MIPS chip (one eighth of an Itanic core) would allow it to build denser systems than those created by rivals, and the Origin 3900 marks an aggressive debut. Four 3900s can be connected to create a 512-CPU shared memory system.

The base system doesn't leave you much change from $3 million, but SGI justifiably claims that the shared memory, single system image (it's NUMA, rather than SMP) architecture is more flexible than clusters of cheap commodity PC clusters. In addition to offering each process access to more memory, SSI systems offer better manageability. SGI aims a pointed barb at configurations which place undue emphasis on "unsustainable theoretical peak performance," ie PC processors linked together with interconnects that are compromised on latency and bandwidth.

SGI has also been working on collaborative software: we've had an impressive hands on with the Visual Area Networking, which allows dispersed sites to collaborate and can even render the output to wireless handhelds. (You lose a bit of detail, obviously). SGI has also enhanced its SAN-style CXFS cluster file system, although SGI told us earlier this year that storage systems won't be a primary focus for the company.

The vogue for high density, low power systems also gives SGI's boutique MIPS systems an advantage. Green Density, an experimental Alamos system using Transmeta processors gained widespread coverage earlier this year.

If there's a "renaissance" in high performance computing, it's because the federal budgets haven't been so abundant for twenty years. And by an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, oil exploration is now a primary factor guiding foreign policy, too.®

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