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SC05 It often feels like AMD receives an inordinate amount of hype for the Opteron processor. Without question, the chip runs great, and AMD has gained market share on Intel as a result. Still, however, Intel owns such a massive portion of the server processor market that AMD remains a relatively minor player.

If, however, last week's Supercomputing show is an indication of things to come, then Intel is indeed in serious trouble. The Opteron hype could well turn into Intel's biggest nightmare sooner rather than later.

The supercomputing crowd tends to set the pace for technology adoption across the server market. The bits and pieces appearing in today's top clusters find their way into corporate data centers in a couple of year's time.

At this year's conference in Seattle, Opteron boxes appeared en masse, and the users could not stop talking about the processor. AMD, for example, had myriad motherboards on display from Asian designers. Similarly, Penguin Computing told us that Opteron-based systems account for about 80 per cent of its big sales with Intel's Xeon products generating almost no interest. Elsewhere, Sun Microsystems actually managed to capture a major supercomputing win with a huge cluster in Japan, and the company, like many, is busy working on Opteron-powered storage gear. Super server start-up Rackable Systems also went hog wild with Opteron at the show.

(Itanium actually received more play than Xeon at the show, which you know is a horrible sign for Intel.)

Simply put, you couldn't escape the Opteron chatter. The chip finally looks set to capture the high performance computing wins that many predicted two years ago. These large sales translate into thousands upon thousands of processors being moved. And even away from the HPC scene, just about every server start-up looking to target the corporate market these days seems to base its systems on AMD's chip.

A Supercomputer for you and me

The other major trend being pushed was the idea of a top-class cluster than can fit under a user's desk.

Orion Multisystems pioneered this concept with its DS-96 product that plugs into a standard wall outlet. In the coming months, Orion looks to put out a new version of this system at a reduced price.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates backed up the personal cluster idea during a keynote at the show. "What we see as a key trend here is that we will have supercomputers of all sizes, including ones that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in a department," he said. A true visionary.

Penguin Computing has started selling a personal cluster as well. Its box starts under $10,000 and can reach up to 200 Gigaflops when packed with Opterons.

Many of you will also want to check out the designs being done by Hiroshi Nakashima and the cluster management wares of Satoshi Matsuoka. Their MegaProto system packs 320 of Transmeta's Efficeon chips into a single package.

You can bet that more and more of these types of systems roll out to address the insatiable desire for more computer power felt by engineers, scientists and big business. (We covered the start of this trend in 2002, when Los Alamos scientist Wu-chun Feng and blade server pioneer Chris Hipp unveiled their work around Green Destiny.)

Overall, Supercomputing has turned into the key show for server customers to see what's available on the market. Close to 9,000 attendees appeared this year, and more will certainly arrive in 2006 at the Tampa event, even if it's in Tampa.

Keep reading to see what other products stole the show.

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