Up, Running, & Kicking Tail (10/13/03)

Fun fact: believe it or not, folks, AtAT's wild success isn't confined to these here United States. No, seriously, it's true! The show actually has semi-regular viewers holed up in such far-flung corners of the world as Iceland, the Dominican Republic, and Delaware-- and for the benefit of those fans, we thought we'd explain that, here in the U.S., today we celebrate a holiday called Columbus Day. Columbus Day, for the uninitiated, is one of our most sacred occasions: a day on which we reflect on the many cultural and technical achievements of the city of Columbus, Ohio. We celebrate Greater Columbus's world-famous quilts, its shrubberies recreating Pointillist masterpieces, and (most importantly) its commitment to the preservation of really old TV sets by wondering why the bank is closed and our mail never came. A good time is had by all.

So if this is such a major holiday, why are we broadcasting, you ask? Well, normally we wouldn't, but faithful viewer Nathaniel Madura pointed out that Slashdot just referenced a BBC World report on that G5 supercomputer down at Virginia Tech, and we're just a little giddy about the existence of a Mac-based cluster than can chew through 17.6 trillion floating point operations per second. Yes, the thing is up and running (at least enough to run performance testing), and reportedly it pumps out 17.6 teraflops of raw perforated aluminum muscle while sucking down enough juice to power 3,000 average homes. Wow, is it getting warm in here, or is it just us? (It's just us-- the G5s are cooled by means of 1,500 gallons of chilled water pumped through every minute. Ooooo, frosty.)

Kudos to the Virginia Tech team who pulled this off, because frankly, this is the sort of technological triumph we'd normally only expect to come out of, say, Columbus, Ohio.

Now, what's interesting about that 17.6 teraflop figure is that if you scope out the last compiled list of the world's top 500 supercomputers (from last June), you'll notice that, if 17.6 teraflops is Virginia Tech's "theoretical peak performance" score, it'll probably slot in nicely at number three. (Scores are ranked by "Maximal LINPACK performance achieved," so it's just guesswork so far.) The top-ranked Intel-based cluster is currently ranked at number three, with 2,304 2.4 GHz Xeons and a theoretical peak performance of 11 teraflops. Gee, more processors, a higher clock speed per processor, and 63% of the performance. Now that's efficiency, baby!

We'll have to wait until the next top 500 list comes out in November to see if "Big Mac" (as the VA Techies apparently call it) really takes third place, or if the real-life LINPACK scores push it down lower-- but we figure a top five placement is a safe bet. One of the world's bestest supercomputers made of Macs and running Mac OS X? Why, it's a Columbus Day miracle!

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The above scene was taken from the 10/13/03 episode:

October 13, 2003: Virginia Tech's G5-based supercomputer is (sort of) running-- with 17.6 teraflops of theoretical performance. Meanwhile, Dell tries to build something (sort of) similar, but it winds up with a quarter of the power and seven times the price, and Apple (sort of) announces Xgrid, a product for "parallel and distributed high performance computing"...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 4265: 4x The Bang, 1/7 The Buck (10/13/03)   Meanwhile, we know that the G5 supercomputer is delivering more pluck per processor than any other supercomputer out there, but what about bang for the buck? Well, remember how Virginia Tech announced that they went with G5s because they were so much cheaper than Dells?...

  • 4266: Or Maybe A "Tron" Thing (10/13/03)   Hey, are you ready for a dramatic deflection into profoundly dissimilar subject matter? After yammering on about Mac-based supercomputer clusters for two entire scenes, we're going to shift gears into the entirely different and wholly unrelated subject of Mac-based parallel and distributed computing-- so buckle up, because the transition is going to be really jarring!...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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