A California start-up, Avalon, has entered the list of the world's fastest computers with a low cost supercomputer running the freeware operating system Linux.
The Avalon machine was designed by Mike Warren, an astrophysicist working at Los Alamos National Lab, and is built entirely from off the shelf components - 140 Digital Alpha processors, 35.8Gbytes of standard memory and Ethernet links.
The machine uses a parallel design in which each processor has its own dedicated memory, which limits high I/O applications such as data analysis - better suited to a shared memory architecture such as Numa.
However, Avalon works well for compute intensive tasks and the latest model, performing at 48.5 billion calculations per second, enters the list of the top 100 fastest computers in the world.
The main attraction of the machine may be its price - $313,000, one-tenth of the price of many supers.
However, there are no plans to put Avalon into mass production or to make a wide range of configurations, so its market is likely to remain confined to universities.
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