Cray Supercomputer to Tap AMDs Opteron

Deal with Sandia lends credibility to unproven 64-bit processor.

Cray Inc. is building a supercomputer for the U.S. government that will use Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s upcoming 64-bit Opteron processor.

Seattle-based Cray is building the supercomputer for the U.S. Department of Energys Sandia National Laboratories as part of a $90 million agreement. The deal marks the first system-design win for the Opteron, which will start shipping in the first half of next year. The endorsement by Cray, which has designed some of the worlds most powerful computers, lends much-needed credibility to AMDs unproven 64-bit processor. More than 10,000 Opteron chips will be used to power the supercomputer, said AMD officials in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Cray said its computer, to be called Red Storm, will deliver a theoretical peak performance of 40 trillion calculations per second. The system, expected to be operational in 2004, will also feature a low-latency, high-bandwidth, three-dimensional interconnect network based on AMDs HyperTransport technology. Cray officials said the new computer will be at least seven times more powerful than Sandias current ASCI Red supercomputer.

Though many of todays high- performance computing systems are based on cluster technology, in which multiple servers are designed to operate as a single unit, Sandia preferred a single-system design by Cray.

"We expect to get substantially more real work done, at a lower overall cost, on a highly balanced system like Red Storm than on a large-scale cluster," said Bill Camp, director of computers, computation, information and mathematics for Sandia, in Albuquerque, N.M.

Supercharged Computer

Cray is building a supercomputer for Sandia to handle 3-D simulations of weapons tests and other scientific problems
  • Processor brand 64-bit Opteron, to be introduced in the first half of next year
  • Number of CPUs More than 10,000
  • Peak performance 40 trillion calculations per second (40 teraflops)*
  • Total project cost $90 million
  • Scheduled deployment 2004* Will be the fastest computer in the United States and second-fastest in the world. Sources: Sandia, Cray and AMD
While Crays decision to use the AMD processor in a new supercomputer is clearly an endorsement of the Opterons performance capabilities, the deal will likely hold less sway with corporate computer users, who traditionally are more conservative in their buying choices, one analyst said.

"The national labs are always looking for the biggest bang for their buck, and theyre not particularly sensitive to how established the suppliers are or what other people are doing. If they think its a good technical solution to a problem, they go with it," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. "It is an endorsement of what AMD is doing from a technical standpoint, but commercial buyers hate to be the first guy on the block with new technology."

Crays decision to use AMD chips marks a public relations setback for Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium processor, which the Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker has long touted as the best processor for delivering the kind of high performance needed to power supercomputers.

In addition, AMDs Opteron poses a threat to Intels popular 32-bit Xeon processors. While AMD has yet to disclose how much it will sell the Opteron for, sources said the chip will be priced at about $1,500, or about the same price as Intels Xeons and nearly $3,000 less than the Itanium.