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HP delivered a double dose of Itanium good cheer on Wednesday with a supercomputer success story and another high benchmark score.

Over at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL), HP has helped the scientists upgrade a 1,400 node cluster with the latest Itanium 2 chips. The move from 1.0GHz McKinleys to 1.5GHz Madisons has given the system enough horsepower to claim the title as the world's fastest Linux supercomputer.

The new system has a peak performance of 11.8T FLOPS, which just edges out the MCR Xeon-based cluster at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

PNNL told InfoWorld that the upgrade took over a month, as 10 HP engineers installed the new Madison chips in HP's rx2600 servers.

"On a weekly basis, a semi truck with processors would show up," said PNNL Molecular Science Computing Facility's manager of computer operations, Scott Studham told the magazine. "I can personally tell you that there are four screws required to take out an Itanium 2 CPU."

What Studham didn't mention is that it takes a forklift to carry each of the beastly chips and a special class of flame-retardant gloves to deal with their intense heat. Or so the joke goes.

Not be outdone by itself, HP also touted its move into second place on the TPC-C benchmark list. It's bad enough that HP and IBM issue almost monthly releases to do with the number one spot, but now it seems a competition is on to be the best runner-up too.

It took 64 Itanium 2s at 1.5Ghz along with Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and SQL Server 2000 (64bit) to reach a result of 786,646 transactions per minute. With half as many CPUs, IBM had a score of 763,898. HP sure showed them.

To its credit, HP is far and away the price/performance leader with its Integrity Superdome system running Windows, coming in at $6.49/tpmC. But when the servers all cost over $5 million, who really cares?

Don't be shocked by HP's Itanic news output. The spin machine is being tuned up to full throttle and set to hit ludicrous speed in 2004. HP needs people moving onto Itanic and fast.

In the first quarter, HP's Itanium sales declined, according to IDC. That's not a good sign for a "bet the company" product that is meant to be ramping, albeit slowly. The words ramping and decline aren't supposed to go together when you have billions of dollars and thousands of customers at stake.

The Madison chips did enter the market this summer, so that should give HP a boost when the Q2 figures roll out. Expect HP to be heading back up the tar-covered ramp, but keep a close eye as to how much. The new data should arrive any day now. ®

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