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NEC brings supercomputing crown back to Japan

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NEC has trumped US computer makers once again by announcing a new supercomputer that destroys previous performance marks. The "SX-8" is a follow on to NEC's Earth Simulator, which held the supercomputing top spot for some time. The new machine can reach a peak performance of 65 teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second). The Earth Simulator topped out at 40 teraflops.

More importantly from a political and bragging rights standpoint, NEC has brought the supercomputing crown back to Japan. IBM, last month managed to unseat NEC with its Blue Gene/L system that posted a sustained performance of 36 teraflops. Earth Simulator only posted a sustained performance of 35.86 teraflops. While NEC did not immediately release sustained performance numbers for SX-8, it's expected to go well past both of the older systems.

Petty as it might seem, the US and Japan battle quite seriously over these competitions, hoping to establish their respective computing strengths. NEC's new machine, however, still trails IBM's Blue Gene in a number of areas. For starters, IBM's system consumes just a fraction of the power required to run an NEC supercomputer, as IBM uses a new architecture that combines many low power processors. In addition, IBM's Blue Gene computer takes up hardly any space at all when compared to a room-sized giant like Earth Simulator.

NEC tried to address both of these concerns with the new system, saying the SX-8 takes up 25 percent less space than Earth Simulator and consumes 50 percent less power. These numbers still leave it well behind IBM.

At present, NEC's SX-8 results are only theoretical. And, if it does take a lead over IBM as expected, it will be a short lived one. IBM's Blue Gene is only partially completed. A much larger version of the system due out in the first half of 2005 should outperform NEC's systems by quite a bit.

The SX-8 is sold as a single system with 8 processors on up to a maximum configuration that combines 512 of the 8 processor systems to form a whopping 4,096 processor machine. NEC hopes to sell 700 of the SX-8 units over the next three years. The system will be available in December. ®

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