I'm Not Going to Pay a Lot for This Supercomputer!
In Table 2, we summarize the price/performance of several machines capable of running the NAS (Numerical Aerospace Simulation Facility at NASA Ames Research Center) Class B benchmarks: Loki, the SGI Origin 2000, the IBM SP-2 P2SC and the DEC AlphaServer 8400/440.
A gravitational N-body simulation won LANL's Michael Warren and Caltech's John Salmon a Gordon Bell Performance Prize in 1992. A scant five years later, that same calculation can be run on a $50,000 machine. Technology continues to advance (Warren and Salmon recently achieved 170 sustained GFLOPS while running the N-body code with over 320 million particles on half of the nearly 10,000 processors of the Teraflops “ASCI Red” machine at Sandia National Laboratory), but the cost of the ever-improving “high-end” supercomputers keeps them beyond the reach of all but a lucky few. Even those lucky few must compete with one another for processor time in the never-ending game of large-scale computation. Commodity parts provide an opportunity for a handful of users to have a significant share of processor cycles on a machine which is capable of solving enormous computational problems in a reasonable time. Linux and the free software movement provide the software to take full advantage of the hardware's capabilities.
Jim Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate research assistant at Los Alamos National Laboratory who's thinking about renaming one of his two Linux boxes a zeroth-degree hypercube.