The University of Delaware on Jan. 22 announced the first clustered supercomputer based upon the Athlon microprocessor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Code-named Samson, the supercomputer will initially include 132 1-GHz Athlon CPUs mounted inside chassis manufactured by RackSaver Inc., with an interconnect provided by Dolphin Interconnect Solutions Inc, RackSaver executives said.
According to a statement by the University of Delaware’s Bartol Research Institute, the setup is expected to rank among the top 200 fastest supercomputers in the world.
The Samson will be a coup for AMD (stock: AMD), which so far has been known strictly as a manufacturer of CPUs for desktop and mobile PCs. Some smaller customers like RackSaver and Angstrom Microsystems Inc. have used the Athlon in servers, but analysts have predicted that large enterprise customers would be scared off. “You won’t see Unisys, for example, manufacturing 32-way mainframe systems as it plans to do with Intel chips,” said Rich Partridge, an analyst at D. H. Brown and Associates, Port Chester, N.Y., in a November interview. “There’s not the desire to do that yet; that’s something you do with the lead player. But file-and-print kind of servers could well find themselves using AMD chips.”
Thermal issues have also been a hurdle. In its technical documents, AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., has asked heatsink manufacturers to allow for up to 76 watts, a heat level that can prove even more problematic when large numbers of the processors are clustered together. “The main reason we’re the one with a 1U [server] is that we’ve made the necessary leaps of technology as far as cooling, layout, and design are concerned,” said David Driggers, chief executive of RackSaver, a San Diego manufacturer of rack-mounted servers using the AMD’s Athlon and the Pentium III from Intel Corp. (stock: INTC).
RackSavers’s 1U servers use four cooling fans, three of which are focused directly onto the CPU, Driggers said. In a typical Athlon PC, on the other hand, up to two fans are typically used: one mounted directly onto the CPU; and one which usually funnels air onto the chipset or the rest of the system.
Over time, the number of Athlon CPUs used in the supercomputer will actually decrease to 128, Driggers explained. Initially, the interconnect scheme used by Dolphin will be a two-dimensional torus, later upgraded to a three-dimensional torus, Driggers explained. In a 2-D torus, server mnufacturers attempt to make the number of processors as close to a perfect square as possible. In a 3-D torus, the number of chips should as close as possible to a perfect cube. For now, the two-processor chassis are arranged in an 11×12 matrix, Driggers said.