NEC launches fastest vector supercomputer

NEC put on sale this week what it says is the fastest vector supercomputer in the world.

NEC Corp. is selling what it says is the fastest vector supercomputer in the world.

The SX-9 is based on a new processor developed by the Tokyo company that boasts a performance of over 100G Flops (floating point operations per second). Up to 16 of the chips can be fitted into a single node and up to 512 nodes can be built together to create what would likely be one of the most powerful computers in the world -- a computer with a theoretical peak processing power of 839T Flops (teraflops).

NEC hasn't benchmarked the machine yet but estimates it would achieve a Linpack score of around 700T Flops, said Hiroshi Takahara, senior director of NEC's HPC marketing division. That's more than double the current fastest supercomputer in the world, the IBM BlueGene/L machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The new machine, launched this week, is much more powerful than NEC's SX-8R, which it succeeds. To get the same processing power in one SX-9 node would require 13 SX-8R nodes so the new computer takes up 3.9 times less floor space and uses 3.6 times less electricity for the same power.

Vector supercomputers are typically used in scientific applications and where large amounts of data needs to be processed. NEC has had some success selling previous systems to meteorological agencies in several nations and to universities, automakers and aerospace laboratories.

The SX-9 is aimed at the same type of customer and will be offered on lease with prices starting at US$26,000 per month for the entry-level system. NEC aims to sell about 700 systems over the next three years and already has its first users. Meteo France and Osaka University are among the first customers, said Takahara.

With the new supercomputer NEC will again be challenging large U.S. computer makers like IBM and Cray. Five years ago the NEC-built Earth Simulator was ranked the world's fastest supercomputer but that machine was surpassed by an IBM computer and has dropped to 20th position in the current Top 500 supercomputer ranking.

The SX-9, should a large configuration model be built, will have a good chance of restoring NEC's name back into the top positions of the influential ranking.

The Japanese government is pushing to get the country back on top of the supercomputer ranking. It has awarded contracts to NEC, Fujitsu and Hitachi for the design and construction of a 10P Flops (petaflops) supercomputer that is expected to be the world's fastest when it is completed in 2012.

The machine will be built in Kobe in western Japan and operated by public research institute Riken. It will be mixed architecture with NEC and Hitachi designing the vector side and Fujitsu the scalar side. A budget of about US$1 billion has been earmarked for the project.

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