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Virginia Tech swaps out G5 desktops for Xserve racks

World's third most powerful supercomputer gets smaller

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Virginia Tech has officially announced that it will replace the 1100 PowerMac G5 desktops that currently comprise its supercomputing cluster, System X, with Apple's recently announced Xserve G5 1U rackmount servers.

The move had been the subject of rumours running around the web since the middle of the month, not long after Apple launched the new Xserve.

Each server is based on IBM's 90nm PowerPC 970FX chip, the successor to the 130nm 970 used in the desktops. Fabrication at 90nm plus the chip's new PowerTune power conservation system are what allowed Apple to cram the processor into the Xserve's 1U shell (see IBM claims massive power cut for 90nm G5).

In that regard, the biggest benefit from the shift Virginia Tech is likely to see is a reduction in its electricity bill. Not to mention finding room for 1100 1U servers is a darn sight easier than making space for a similar number of the bulky aluminium desktop machines. "We'll go from 3000 square feet to 1000 square feet," a university spokeswoman told EE Times.

The first System X also required a special cooling system.

And, as Register reader John Allen wonders, where are all the old desktops going? They will all find a happy home," said the Virginia Tech spokeswoman. John suggests a flood of 1100 dual 2GHz Power Mac G5s being offered on eBay should do wonders for the platform's price point.

System X achieved some notoriety last year when the November 2003 Top 500 supercomputer list listed the Virginia Tech rig at number three, rating it the most powerful university supercomputer and the biggest number cruncher based on a mainstream desktop CPU.

It's certainly the cheapest: System X cost $7 million, compared to $250 million and $215 million for the top two supercomputers, the Japanese Earth Simulator Center's NEC-built 5120-CPU rig and the Los Alamos National Laboratory's 8192-chip AlphaServer-based ASCI-Q, respectively.

Virginia Tech cannily offers the System X design and proprietary fault-tolerance software, DÇjÖ Vu, as a kit to allow would be supercomputer owners to build their own G5 rig. An EE Times report claims the university has had a number of enquiries from Federal agencies, including the Argonne National Lab, the National Security Agency and NASA, which bodes well for Apple if they lead to system purchases. ®

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