Fri, Oct 26, 2007 - Page 11 News List

NEC touts SX-9 supercomputer


NEC Corp began worldwide sales yesterday of a supercomputer it said would challenge world leaders IBM Corp and Cray Inc.

NEC -- which hasn't made a computer among the top 10 in global rankings of supercomputers -- said its new SX-9 delivers peak processing performance at a rate of 839 teraflops. A teraflop equals a trillion calculations per second.

IBM's BlueGene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is now No. 1, with a performance mark of 280.6 teraflops in the latest list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers.

The list is published every six months by computing researchers at the University of Tennessee, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Germany's University of Mannheim.

It remains unclear where SX-9 will place in that ranking, if at all, because peak processing speed isn't necessarily reflected in actual use. Computers from Cray and Hewlett-Packard Co are also high on the list of the fastest machines.

SX-9, a shiny black box about the size of an instant passport photo booth, rents for ?2.98 million (US$26,000) a month.

"This is a superb product," senior vice president Yoshikazu Maruyama said.

"We believe we are at the top in this genre," Maruyama said.

The SX-9 delivers about 13 times the speed of its SX-8 predecessor and consumes less energy than comparable models, according to Tokyo-based NEC.

NEC has sold 1,100 supercomputers code-named as the SX-series -- about half in Japan, a third in Europe and the rest elsewhere. Customers include the University of Toronto, the German Climate Computing Center and Japanese government projects.

NEC, which also makes cellphones, batteries and servers, is hoping to sell 700 SX-9 computers over the next three years, targeting ?20 billion in annual sales of supercomputers.

But the business is barely breaking even because of massive research costs, the Tokyo-based company said.

Supercomputers are used for advanced research in areas such as space science, environmental simulations and meteorology, which require massive numbers of calculations.

The extremely quick speed of the SX-9 is useful for figuring out what might be happening to our planet's climate and environment, or in developing new kinds of materials, NEC said.

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