The Ultimate 2024 Winter Class Round-Up

By Dan Olds

May 8, 2024

To make navigating easier, we have compiled a collection of all the 2024 Winter Classic News in this single page round-up.

Meet The Teams


Introducing Team Lobo

This is the other team from University of New Mexico, since there are two, right? This team has some significant cluster competition experience with two veterans of previous Winter Classic and SC events. It’s a nice mix of newbies and vets. You’ll see from the video that HPC fever is taking hold, half the team has had experience with our pals at Sandia National Lab as interns, which is pretty damned good experience.

I do take the opportunity to berate one of the team members for laziness. He’s finishing his four-year degree in two years while holding down two jobs at the same time. He’s going to pursue a Masters, which I predict he’ll complete in maybe 20 weeks or so.

When I interviewed the team, they were sitting in fifth place, but not too far behind the leaders. If they nail the rest of the challenges, they definitely have a shot at taking home a trophy. Get to know this impressive group of students a little better by checking out their Winter Classic home page.

Meet Team UC Santa Cruz

It was a quiet Valentine’s Day evening when I interviewed the UC Santa Cruz team. Since none of us seemed to have any plans, it seemed like a good time to do it.

But there was some good news for the Santa Cruz team – they had just aced the NASA BTIO challenge, adding 100 points to their tally and putting them less than one point behind the leader, the TTU Red Raiders.

In the interview, we talk a bit about the leaderboard, but also dug into their future hopes and dreams. This is definitely a hardware-oriented team, with several members expressing a desire to work on next generation accelerators.

So far in the competition their biggest problem has been finding time to meet. None of the challenges to date seem to have presented any, well, challenge. This could all change when they get out of the benchmarks and into the real applications, so stay tuned. If you want to find out more about Team Santa Cruz, here’s their 2024 Winter Classic homepage.

Meet the Roadrunners

This is the other team from the University of New Mexico. I mistakenly thought that one of their team members was going to make history by being the first competitor to compete for two different schools – but I was wrong, oh well, it happens.

But back to the Roadrunners – this is an impressive set of students. They all have some serious tech chops and some have significant HPC experience as well. At the time of the interview, the team was in sixth place overall and doing well. They would be ranked much higher if not for a weak HPCG score, but that’s how these things go, right?

This is one of the most solid teams in this edition of the Winter Classic, but I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to stoke a furious competition between the Roadrunners and the other team, the UNM Lobos. I’ll keep trying. Check out the Roadrunner Winter Classic homepage to learn even more about the team.

Meet Channel Islands “A”

This is the second team from California State University, Channel Islands – or maybe it’s the first team? Not sure, but I do know they have two teams total, and this is one of them.

As you’ll see in the video interview below, the team members have widely ranging ambitions from aerospace to working with machine learning in industry to pure math research. One wants to train AI for investment purposes, make a killing in the markets (I’m guessing exotic derivative bets) and eventually have enough to build his own super villain lair. This is a pretty cool idea, I think.

To learn more about them, check out their 2024 Winter Classic homepage.

Team Jackson State

This is the second time we’re seeing a team from Jackson State university. The team features two veterans of the 2023 Winter Classic, which should help, but it’s also a team whose members are involved in a lot of other activities – like bands and things like that – which makes getting together rough.

We managed to catch up with three of the four team members for the video interview below. This is an all-female team that’s both engaging and ambitious – plus all three seem to have caught the HPC bug at least to some degree.

Want to learn more about Team Jackson State? Check out their Winter Classic homepage to get a look at both the 2023 and 2024 JSU teams.

Meet Team Morehouse

Morehouse College? The university is well-known for their long list of illustrious graduates, the rigor of their academics, and the quality of the instruction. They were one of the first schools to sign up for the Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition back in 2021 and have been a part of the event ever since.

Ok, they haven’t exactly set the house on fire in the competition, granted. But winning isn’t the point of this thing, it’s all about opening new horizons to students who typically haven’t heard of or considered HPC as a potential career. On that score, Morehouse students are definitely ahead of the game.

Much of this is due to Dr. Alfred Watkins, the Morehouse Computer Science department chair. He’s been leading the charge to bring more HPC education and resources to the school. Get to know him and the 2024 Morehouse team in the video below.

You can also take a gander at their 2024 Winter Classic homepage to learn more about the students and what makes them tick.

Be sure to watch the part where we ask the students about future career interests if you’re an employer who is looking for fantastic interns or entry-level full time folks.

More team interviews on the way, plus much more exciting news from the competition. As always, stay tuned!

The Return of Team Fayetteville

Hailing from Fayetteville, NC, Fayetteville State University stayed under the radar in their first Winter Classic competition in 2022. Solid students for sure, but not a lot of HPC experience. All good.

They didn’t field a team in 2023, taking a break, assumedly for re-building. But this year, Fayetteville is back with a in a big way. In LINPACK, they posted a score of 99.13 – which got them third place, just fractions of a point away from the leaders. They did even better on HPCG, taking second with 99.85 points. Impressive performance for sure.

In the video below we meet the team, who have adopted Parallel Pioneers as their nickname, and talk about their respective backgrounds and career interests. If you’re an employer looking for highly motivated interns or entry-level team members, take notes.

You can also visit the 2024 Fayetteville Parallel Pioneer Winter Classic homepage to learn a bit more about them. Stay tuned for more stuff.

Texas Two Step

Texas Tech University. Their middle name is ‘tech’, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been fielding not one, but two teams in the last three Winter Classic cluster competitions. Their teams, dubbed Matador and Red Raider, have been strong in past competitions – just not at the same time.

In 2022, Team Red Raider notched a third-place finish (and campus cluster competition hegemony) with Team Matador lagging in fifth. In 2023, the Matadors took third while the Red Raiders languished in seventh (bragging rights lost).

Something has to give.

At the time of this interview, both teams had posted very good LINPACK scores with the Matadors slightly ahead with 99.86 points and the Red Raiders barely behind with a 96.10 score. The Matadors held serve in HPCG, winning the event and adding a 100 points to their total. The Red Raiders were hot on their trail, posting a score of 96.18

In the video below, we meet each team, tell them about their scores on the first competition module, and try to stir up bad feelings between them. We meet the coach of both teams, PhD candidate Michael Beebe, who was a big part of the 2022 TTU Red Raider team as a competitor.

Employers take note:  in all of our team interviews, we ask the students about their future career interests and plans. You might find your next great intern or full-time entry level team member from their ranks.


Take a look at the TTU Matador 2024 Winter Classic competition homepage and the Red Raider page here to get a better handle on the current and past teams.

Shine a light on the competition by pelting your family, friends, and enemies with links to this article and even our homepage. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Meet the Mentors


Introducing the HPE Mentors

The latest installment of the 2024 Winter Classic Studio Update Show features our interview with the HPE mentor team who introduced our student teams to the joys (and potential sorrows) of the HPL (LINPACK) and accompanying HPCG benchmarks.

(To refresh your memory on the HPL/HPCG results, click here.)

This is the third year that HPE has kicked off the Winter Classic, providing both remote clusters and training for our student teams representing HBCU and HSI schools. Their mentor team is made up of volunteers who, as you will see in the interview, really enjoy working with the students and teaching HPC to a new generation.

In the conversation, we talked about the ins and outs of the 2024 edition of the LINPACK/HPCG battle from a pro perspective. We also discuss how students tend to start on LINPACK first and then tackle HPCG, which has resulted in tears at times as they run up against the module deadline.

We summarize by asking each of the HPE experts to provide tips to the students on how to approach the competition and new tasks that might be thrown at them in the future. Key points include getting started early, starting with small runs, putting a result in the bank before optimizing, and other advice. Get the rest of the details in the video below.


Many thanks to HPE for their time, training, and systems. Next up we have some team interviews, the NASA Challenge, and more exciting action. Stay tuned!

Meet the Oak Ridge Mentors

Oak Ridge National Laboratory marks their third year mentoring our student competitors in the Winter Classic student cluster competition. The Oak Ridge competition modules are always, well, different. They don’t ask students to optimize typical HPC applications or benchmarks. Nooo…that would be too easy. At Oak Ridge, they like to throw curve balls.

Their first challenge in 2022, which had the deceptive title “Simplifying the Sky”, was actually a pretty complex task with 3D N-body cosmological stuff. In 2023, they came back with their “Blast Challenge” that had students visualizing an explosion.

For 2024, the Oak Ridge mentors have put together a task that’s highly relevant to most everyone in the world: drug discovery using Covid vaccine datasets.

In the interview, the Oak Ridge mentor team, including Dan Dietz, Veronica Melesse Vergara, Jens Glaser, and Maria, discuss their drug discovery challenge in detail. We get a behind the scenes look at why they decided on this particular workload and how the students coped with it.

If you want to see how the student teams fared vs. the ORNL Drug Discovery Challenge, check out the results show.

We still have quite a way to go in the 2024 competition with challenges from AWS, Google, and the always dramatic judging interviews on the way. Stay tuned…

AWS Mentor Interview

The history of AWS and the Winter Classic has been, in a word, tumultuous.

Their initial run in 2022 was a simple task of optimizing a basic OpenFOAM simulation on different processors to achieve the lowest wall clock time to solution. The only requirement was to keep the same airflow coefficient. One team, Prairie View A &M, thought outside the box and tried coarsening the mesh and achieved spectacular results. They scored a perfect 100 points vs. the next highest competitor who only scored 6 points, which vaulted them from a weak fifth place to a tight second place and eventually gave them the 2022 championship.

In 2023, AWS came back with their GROMACS Challenge, won by Team Santa Cruz, which put them in a virtual tie with the Channel Islands High Performance Dolphins heading into the interview. The Dolphins prevailed by only 4.29 (0.65%) points for the championship.

The AWS competition week in 2024 was equally dramatic, but for different reasons. The results did result in leaderboard changes – five out of the 11 teams had their positions changed. But first, let’s talk about the student task, the AWS RELION Challenge.

In the interview, Evan Bollig and Brian Skjerven talk about why they selected RELION, which is used for electron cryomicroscopy (getting stuff really cold and then looking at it close up). The interesting thing about this app, which they discuss in the interview below, is that the AWS teams often have customers come to them with a need to run cryomicroscopy workloads, but not knowing how to do it. So, with the RELION Challenge, students are attempting to do something that stumps real-world customer teams. Very cool.

The goal for AWS in every competition is to present as much of a real life HPC situation as possible for the students – and that was definitely the case this year. We had a system availability interruption in the middle of the week that threw a wrench into the works.

It wasn’t a problem with the systems themselves, it was because of the highly unusual usage pattern of the Winter Classic AWS account. For 51 weeks of the year, the Winter Classic account is at zero utilization and then, for one week, it gets slammed by users from 50+ different IP addresses. This raised automated fraud detection alarms and understandably cut off account access. It was fixed with some phone calls and account adjustments and the students received extra time to complete the task.

Check out the AWS interview, it’s a very thoughtful explanation of what they’re trying to do with mentoring the students and how they’re accomplishing it – and having fun doing it.

(The photo is an image of a tick larvae as seen by Dartmouth’s electron microscope, thank you Dartmouth, that’s really scary.)

After you watch the video, hit our social media and give us huge amounts of praise, and send our links to everyone on your contacts list, then make sure you stay tuned for more Winter Classic competition action.

NASA Mentor Interview

The folks at NASA Ames once again did a bang-up job as a mentor for the 2024 Winter Classic. This is the third time they’ve fulfilled this vital function, and their challenges keep getting better and better.

In their first challenge, in 2022, they had the teams work with the NAS Parallel benchmarks, learning to run and then performance optimize them. In 2023, they tasked the students with learning and wringing performance out of WRF.

This year, they had the students work on NPB-MPI BTIO, a subset of NAS Par. As usual, there were multiple scored components during the NASA competition week, which allows teams to get partial credit for hitting milestones, and also ensures that they don’t leave everything for the last couple of days. (BTW, Sherry Chang put together a killer quiz for the students that made them squirm – but also learn.)

In the video, we interview the NASA Ames team that put together the challenge, trained the students, and supported them during the week. Particularly noteworthy is Henry Jin, Senior Research Scientist at NASA Ames, and one of the authors of the NAS Parallel benchmarks.

Stay tuned for more 2024 Winter Classic action!


Check the Results (So Far)


Oak Ridge Score Reveal

It’s time to reveal the results from the Oak Ridge competition module, well, it’s actually well past time. My day job and travel schedule have put me way behind, but I am dedicated to getting all this great content out way before the next competition begins.

In this show, my special guest commentator is HPC legend Henry Newman. While he despises me personally, he put that aside for a few minutes to help analyze the results of the Oak Ridge Challenge and reveal the new leaderboard.

This year, Oak Ridge put together a drug discovery challenge based on real Covid data sets. This is the first real application the students have faced in the competition. Everything prior was some sort of benchmark, meaning a well-known workload with lots of reference materials online.

In the video, Henry remarked that he was “blown away” by the quantity and quality of the Oak Ridge training materials and “the materials were among the best I’ve ever seen for something like this.” But I’ve found that this is typical for the Oak Ridge staff, they cover all the bases, plus they were one of the most responsive mentor groups when answering student questions during the competition week.

Before the results from Oak Ridge were factored in, the competition was incredibly tight with less than 10 points (out of a possible 300) between the first and fifth place teams. Oak Ridge changed things up considerably.

The Roadrunners ran away with the 100 point top score, but the Texas Tech Matadors were less than five points behind. Fayetteville takes third, followed by Channel Islands Team A, the TTU Red Raiders, the Lobos, Santa Cruz, and the Channel Islands High Performance Dolphins.

But the big question is how this will impact the overall leaderboard, or “The Big Board” as we call it.

Here are a couple of hints:  We have a new leader in the clubhouse. The TTU Matadors have dethroned the hated rival Red Raiders for the top slot. We have different teams in third, fourth, and fifth and finally a bit of distance between the top five. But with another three hundred points at stake with the upcoming AWS and Google competition modules, plus the grueling Judges Interview, it’s still anyone’s game.

Stay tuned for more Winter Classic action!

NASA Results Revealed!

In this edition of the Winter Classic Studio Update Show we reveal the results from the NASA BTIO Challenge. The benchmark, BTIO, is a subset of the NAS Parallel benchmark and NASA set up a formidable set of milestones, including a quiz, that ran students through a gamut of HPC-ery. (No, not a word, but should be, right?)

In the video below, we reveal the new leaderboard, which has been shuffled quite a bit due to the NASA results.

The competition is still very tight with less than a dozen points between the first and fifth place teams. Santa Cruz scored a perfect 100 on BTIO and vaulted themselves from fifth to second place. The TTU Red Raiders took over first place from their bitter cross-campus Matador rivals, but only by a meager three points.

But it’s still early in the competition. With the NASA challenge complete, only 300 out of the total possible 700 points have been apportioned. There’s a lot of room for teams to mount a challenge with a breakthrough performance or for teams to have unfortunate stumbles.

Keep up with the latest news and results here on HPCwire or check in on our homepage. Stay tuned for more action!

Google GROMACS Challenge Results!

The final computational event for the 2024 Winter Classic teams is courtesy of Google, a new mentor partner for 2024. The application? It’s been around for a while (33 years) and is widely used for biophysical molecular dynamics. You know it, you love it, it’s GROMACS.

(So why the steak picture? Hey, it’s protein and GROMACS does a great job of analyzing proteins. There are plenty of lipids in that that wonderful slab of meat, which can also be analyzed by GROMACS.)

My special guest commentator is Brent Gorda, back for another turn behind the 2024 Winter Classic Lens of Truth (not sure why I threw that in, but it has a nice ring to it, right?) As many of you might know, Brent has been a fixture in the industry for more than two decades, working for national labs, plus major companies, and start-ups alike.

After a little banter and some aimless hardware talk, we get down to cases and start revealing how this, the last challenge, went for our student teams.

The latter challenges are always difficult for the students. It’s a busy time of year for them with midterms and/or finals plus spring breaks happening at various times surrounding the last two competition modules. Oh, and the applications are more difficult as well.

Before this challenge, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are atop the leaderboard but only by a slim 26 point margin. They’re being pushed hard by their cross-campus rival TTU Matador rivals and by the UC Santa Cruz Not-So-Slow Slugs. The University of New Mexico Lobo and Roadrunner teams are also in medal reach.

So what happened with GROMACS? Turmoil. The Lobos, UC Santa Cruz, and the Channel Island Dolphins really helped themselves out by taking the top spots on this app. The Red Raiders, Roadrunners, and TTU Matadors? Not so much. Same with Fayetteville. Ouch.

But this is just one application, albeit an important one. Did it impact the overall team positions? Short answer:  yep.

Their 91.40 score on GROMACS vaulted UC Santa Cruz into a narrow seven point lead over the previous #1 TTU Red Raider team. The UNM Lobos used their 100 point win on GROMACS to move into third place overall, pushing past the TTU Matadors and the Fayetteville Parallel Pioneers.

Heading into the judges interview, which is worth 100 points, there are less than 20 points separating the top three teams and less than 50 points between the top five teams. Once again, we’re heading right down to the wire going into the last scoring event.

You’ll have to wait until Gala Awards Ceremony to see how it all worked out. Hold on to your hats, this is going to be an incredibly close competition yet again. Stay tuned for the dramatic finale.

AWS RELION Challenge Results

AWS has been a Winter Classic mentor for three years now and their past challenges have roiled the leaderboard – and this year is no exception. The application? RELION, which stands for “REgularized Likelihood OptomizatioN. It’s used electron electron cryomicroscopy (getting stuff cold and then taking a really close look at it) to reconstruct the structures in 3D or 2D.

(The image above is from the Dartmouth lab collection of electron microscopy images and it’s of snow – go figure, right? The AWS mentors provide a great explanation of RELION and why they selected it in their upcoming Winter Classic Mentor interview.)

I have another special guest commentator in this show, AMD’s Brent Gorda, one of the co-founders of ALL student cluster competitions. In the video, Brent recaps the cluster competition origin story and we talk a bit of cluster competition history before revealing how the teams did with RELION and the impact on the big board. It’s scintillating stuff and there are some laughs along the way as well.

Our take on RELION can be summarized as “RELION is hard.” This is also confirmed by the scoring disparity between the teams on this one. It isn’t unusual to see this for a couple of reasons:  1) The tasks get harder once you’re out of the opening benchmark workloads, and, 2) the calendar is working against us as spring breaks, midterms, and finals complicate student schedules. Not to mention that every student in this competition has at least one outside job.

On RELION, the Roadrunners string together their second consecutive 100 point performance, very impressive. The Red Raiders from TTU come in a heartbreaking .85 points behind them, with the Lobos and Fayetteville trailing in third and fourth. Santa Cruz and the TTU Matadors take fifth and sixth place with identical scores of 55.01.

When we last looked at the “Big Board”, the TTU Matadors earned a slight lead over their cross-campus rivals the Red Raiders, Fayetteville was in third with Santa Cruz pressuring them in fourth. Next we had Dolphins, Road Runners, and Lobos.

After RELION, the top slots have been shuffled yet again, with the Red Raiders sticking it to the Matadors, Fayetteville less than two points behind them in third, and Santa Cruz falling a few more points behind the leaders, but still holding on to fourth.

Even though the Roadrunners took first on RELION, it only moved them into fifth, but let them put the rival UNM Lobos team in the rearview mirror. However things in the rearview mirror are always closer than they seem, right? A dreaded DNS (Did Not Submit) score left the Channel Island Dolphin team languishing in seventh place.

Less than 60 points separate first from fifth, and with 200 points on the table with the Google competition module and the Judges Interview still to come, it’s still all up for grabs. Stay tuned for the exciting finish!

Razor Thin Margins in HPL/HPCG

The first task for the 11 teams in the 2024 Winter Classic student cluster competition was to run and optimize the LINPACK and HPCG benchmarks. As usual, the results were a mixed bag. Some teams had trouble getting out of the gate and onto the leaderboard, which is entirely normal. Other teams turned in decent scores, while some posted some truly noteworthy results.

First a little background. The HPL (LINPACK)/HPCG challenge was mentored by HPE, which means they provided system access and training for all 11 teams. And they man, did they provide training – five hours’ worth plus a live Q&A session and support throughout the week. The students had five days to optimize the two benchmarks and turn in their best scores.

LINPACK Skews High

Put yourself in the place of one of our teams, let’s say Team Santa Cruz, for example. You hear from me that your normalized LINPACK score vs. the rest of the field is 89.90 out of 100. That’s pretty good, usually an “A” grade, right? But this year in the Winter Classic, that score puts them in seventh place. Huh?

The first-place team, Channel Islands Team B, received 100 points on our scale as they turned in the highest HPL result. But the team in second, the Texas Tech Matador team was only .14% behind at 99.86 points. Fayetteville State University took down third with 99.13 points. The University of New Mexico Road runners pulled in fourth with 98.51 and the Texas Tech Red Raider team nabbed fifth with 96.10. Sixth place went to Team Prairie View A&M with 91.94 points.

HPCG: Feast and Famine

We saw the same story in HPCG that we’ve seen in previous years. Several teams ran out of steam when it came to HPCG and could not submit valid scores. This is due to a combination of students starting with LINPACK and then getting wrapped around the axle optimizing it, plus teams underestimating the amount of time they need to devote to HPCG. Typical stuff in the student cluster game and no big deal.

The grouping of the top HPCG scores is tight, but not quite as tight as what we saw in HPL. The fifth spot went to Channel Islands Team B with just over 90 points. The Texas Tech Red Raiders came in fourth with a very solid 96.18 but were narrowly edged out of third by Team Santa Cruz who turned in a score worth 96.54 points.

But Fayetteville State and Texas Tech Team Matador beat HPCG like it owed them money. Fayetteville nabbed 99.85 points and the Matadors took home the top mark of 100.

The Standings

After the first competition module, it’s still anyone’s race. The Texas Tech Matadors are barely in first place, with merely a fraction of a point lead over Fayetteville State (.89% to be exact). The Texas Tech Red Raider team is only 6 points behind the leaders in third place.

Channel Island Team B holds down fourth, a bare 10 points off the lead. Team Santa Cruz and the University of New Mexico Roadrunners hold a slight lead over their rival UNM Lobo team in fifth and sixth place respectively.

The Details, The Chatter, The Banter

Find all of the above in the latest edition of our 2024 Winter Classic Studio Update Show. We give you the first look at the 2024 leaderboard, go over all the LINPACK and HPCG results, and unveil the competition standings.

Click your clicking devices on the picture below and prepare to be whisked away….

Next up from us is our interview with the HPE mentors to get the lowdown on what happened behind the scenes on the HPL/HPCG challenge. Then we’ll start rolling out team interviews, results from the NASA challenge, and much more stuff. Stay tuned….

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May 17, 2024

On Tuesday May 14th, Google announced its sixth-generation TPU (tensor processing unit) called Trillium.  The chip, essentially a TPU v6, is the company's l Read more…

Intel’s Next-gen Falcon Shores Coming Out in Late 2025 

April 30, 2024

It's a long wait for customers hanging on for Intel's next-generation GPU, Falcon Shores, which will be released in late 2025.  "Then we have a rich, a very Read more…


How AMD May Get Across the CUDA Moat

October 5, 2023

When discussing GenAI, the term "GPU" almost always enters the conversation and the topic often moves toward performance and access. Interestingly, the word "GPU" is assumed to mean "Nvidia" products. (As an aside, the popular Nvidia hardware used in GenAI are not technically... Read more…

The NASA Black Hole Plunge

May 7, 2024

We have all thought about it. No one has done it, but now, thanks to HPC, we see what it looks like. Hold on to your feet because NASA has released videos of wh Read more…

AMD Clears Up Messy GPU Roadmap, Upgrades Chips Annually

June 3, 2024

In the world of AI, there's a desperate search for an alternative to Nvidia's GPUs, and AMD is stepping up to the plate. AMD detailed its updated GPU roadmap, w Read more…

Q&A with Nvidia’s Chief of DGX Systems on the DGX-GB200 Rack-scale System

March 27, 2024

Pictures of Nvidia's new flagship mega-server, the DGX GB200, on the GTC show floor got favorable reactions on social media for the sheer amount of computing po Read more…

How the Chip Industry is Helping a Battery Company

May 8, 2024

Chip companies, once seen as engineering pure plays, are now at the center of geopolitical intrigue. Chip manufacturing firms, especially TSMC and Intel, have b Read more…

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