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A New Concept in Supercomputers 113

Posted by CmdrTaco
Steve Kerrison writes "With the power of CPUs ever-increasing and the number of cores in a system increasing too, having a supercomputer sit under your desk is no longer a pipe dream. But generally speaking, the extreme high end of modern computing consists of a big ugly box housing that generates a lot of noise. A UK system integrator has developed a concept PC that blows that all away. The eXtreme Concept PC (XCP) has quite a romantic design story, with inspiration coming from concept cars and the sarcophagus-like Cray T90. The end result is a system that resembles a Cylon — computing power never looked so ominous. Although just a concept, the company behind the design reckons there could be a (small) market for the systems, with varying levels of compute power accompanied by appropriate (say, LN2) cooling."
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A New Concept in Supercomputers

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  • by Iskender (1040286) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @11:40AM (#22759666)
    If this is good design, then I do *not* want to see bad.
    • Why would anyone use a supercomputer anymore? Hasn't google shown us that it's cheaper to get the same power out of a cluster of servers?
      • by baffled (1034554)
        I don't think this is so much a supercomputer as it is a super-desktop pc. Tailoring hardware and software to optimize a specific task is always the most powerful solution. This machine is meant to run vista and 3d games real fast.
        • Actually I thought it would be more for a workstation than "vista+games." A gaming PC only needs one graphics card, at most two, but SLI is just a rich person trap that doesn't give much more performance but I could see how it could be useful with workstation cards. I wouldn't call it a "supercomputer" either, since it doesn't seem to have any better specs than your usual top-end server box except for the whole liquid nitrogen bit. Anyways, the aesthetics of this thing are disgusting. :P
      • The number of flops required for "supercomputer" status is constantly in flux, right? Yesterday's supercomputer is today's dual-core laptop. So says Gordon Moore.

        In fact, this reminds me of old Apple ads for the G4 circa 2000 -- those had some sort of tagline to the effect of "a supercomputer on your desk," an assertion they were basing on a (who knows how old at the time) definition of a supercomputer as capable of doing a certain number of flops at which the G4 happened to be benchmarking.

        Considerin
      • by Detritus (11846)
        Supercomputers aren't about "cheap", they're about having the speed and power to do jobs that would crush ordinary computers.
      • by mccoma (64578)
        Google's cluster isn't for number crunching, its all about search. Supercomputer still have a place at the table, just as some groups still need mainframes.
      • by kesuki (321456)
        You might have missed it, it's on page 2. It's just an 8-core server, 'souped up in appearance and cooling capabilities.' Although it will support 4 graphic cards as well. there is little this thing has to offer besides looks, and extreme cost inflation of 'designing everything from ground up.'

        so that means when the bad boy's PSU goes bad, you're in for sticker shock trying to replace it, and most likely a heck of a time getting a new one in. (most likely you ship it back and they fix it for you)

        calling a
    • ...welcome our new overlord, CmdrTacky.
    • by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @01:16PM (#22760092) Journal
      I do *not* want to see bad.

      Too bad here it is. [urbanretrolifestyle.com]
      Perhaps this is more to your liking? [merlinstower.com] Or this. [homotron.net]
      Any computer company that wants to have "elegant design" associated with their product needs to realize that plastic is unelegant. Notice how most high end cars try to hide all the plastic in the interior. Yes Apple has done some non-hideous things with white plastic, but outside of the modernism design genre plastic is bad. I would think that some of the engineered wood companies (mostly they make laminate wood flooring) could produce some quite attractive cases for reasonable cost.
    • You could shell out ~10k for a Tesla that computes using CUDA, or maybe you could build your own dual quad core, tri-SLI using a Tyan boads?
    • Perhaps the word "concept" design has been lost on you.
      • by Nullav (1053766)
        The concept (another pre-built 'gaming rig', as TFA goes out of its way to state many times over) is lame and the design just sucks. I'd sooner buy a full rack and just wheel it into a corner than have that glowing, plastic robot dog if I wanted a 'supercomputer'.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kaytodaizzik (900653)
      When the state-of-the-art in aftermarket case design is neon glow and case windows, can we really expect more that this from a system integrator? I'm of the opinion (to be taken with a grain of salt) they should have made it silver and glass with smooth curves, like a circa-1960s flying saucer. At least that way having the guts exposed would be cute, instead of garish.
    • Internet toaster, case-modded.
    • Will it run Vista?
  • No thanks. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jschen (1249578) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @11:45AM (#22759688)

    I don't need the very best computer, but if I needed/wanted the best, cost be damned...

    That's hardly something that would fit under my desk. And there's no discussion of performance specs, just a bunch of hype. Besides, with serviceability taking a back seat, you won't be able to upgrade the thing readily, probably making it at the top of its game only for a few months.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nitemare14 (1256834)
      From the concept mockup picture, it looks like at least the video cards are supposed to be at the top in a mostly open place. I can't really tell from the picture of the actual product, but I should hope they stuck with that.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      It looks like a bad case mod with some overclocking and fancy cooling. That doesn't make it the ultimate computer. The overclocking crowd isn't interested in speed, they want to see how far you can push a particular chip. If they really wanted speed (and stability) at any cost, as the article claims, they'd just buy a computer speced for that performance.
      • by Molochi (555357)
        "speced for that performance." doesn't cover all my bases.

        There used to be a saying, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." It was because the people who designed IBM systems were perceived as being the best or at least better than the employer could afford to hire personally. Nobody has that aegis anymore, so we're on our own.

        If a vendor was offering mainstream chips overclocked to guaranteed and available (in retail) frequencies I might listen to the pitch. If they offered a financial bond should a highe
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)
          I think it's safe to say that the engineers and AMD or Intel know more about the chips they make than you do. Overclockers are hobbyists. If you need a computer for something other than playing with you run it at the specified speed. If you need more power, you buy a better processor, or add some. You might be surprised at how little grieving families care that the Celeron XX should be easily overclockable to YY. Or angry bosses, for that matter.
  • Looks like something that will run around the room yelling "Exterminate!" In a high squeaky voice. £10,000 for a custom cooled Skulltrail? Uhhh... No.
  • It looks like there's no space left in the case at all. How many hard drives can it hold? How many CD-ROM drives. If I went all out on a computer with quad SLI, and dual quad core CPUs I'm not going to cheap out on hard drives.

    I currently have a Lian Li [newegg.com] PC-V2000 full tower. Holds something like 12 hard drives and 6 CD-ROMs, I had 8 drives (2.2TB) and 1 CD-ROM. Plus it gives me more than enough room to work with. The only time it's massive size became an issue is when I moved and had to bring the compu
    • by chill (34294) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:10PM (#22759792) Journal
      If I was spending $20K U.S. on a PC like that, hard drives would be in a separate case, RAID and connected via a SAN. They generate too much heat and vibration and need to be separate from the main electronics. Ditto for optical drives. Once you start moving up the food chain in computing, storage is usually a separate beast.
      • by Zeinfeld (263942)
        The one use I can think of for this machine is if you were writing some serious gaming software and needed to have a machine that was somewhat ahead of the curve when you began development.

        I have worked on liquid immersion cooled systems. I don't think that you could build it for that price. If you are going to go to the trouble of immersion you might as well start packing in a serious number of processors while you are at it - by which I would mean 32 or more.

        The noise factor might be interesting but I

  • But generally speaking, the extreme high end of modern computing consists of a big ugly box housing that generates a lot of noise.
    I won't say that I'm much of an Apple fan, but in many cases they are absolutely spot on with the less is more philosophy. No matter how "cool" this thing looks, it doesn't really disprove that high-end computing is typically ugly box housing. It adds new elements of annoyance that I would not like to see in any room.
    • by DAldredge (2353)
      Plenty of cases are available that look, at least in my opinion, better than the macPro cheese grater.
      • Plenty of cases are available that look, at least in my opinion, better than the macPro cheese grater.

        But the Mac Pro isn't just about looks. In many ways, it's among the easiest to get into for drives and cards, and it's incredibly quiet. It is the quietest workstation that I've been exposed to, and it's quieter than many regular performance desktops too. There aren't any cables for the hard drives, as the hard drives just connect to the main board just like a drive module would connect to a backplane
  • ugh (Score:1, Funny)

    by notoriousE (723905)
    it looks like an effed up futuristic robotic pet that was vomited up by a mad scientist or something

    id rather get punched in the junk and given a 486 than have that thing sit under my desk where friends could potentially see it
  • If someone designs a 'supercomputer' that is faster than a home PC and is affordable to a home user..... wouldn't that just become the new computer? A supercomputer is by definition a computer that is better than one that a normal home user could afford.
  • Oh, yeah, it looks like the 70's version. I was hoping for this [abovetopsecret.com]. Maybe that's not a good thing because the last thing you want is you IT staff in the computer room all the time with their pants down and, well, you get the idea.
    • by Livius (318358)
      I had a feeling that a big piece of hardware looking like Tricia Helfer, Lucy Lawless, or Rekha Sharma was too good to be true.
    • by Coraon (1080675)
      See, this is how it starts, fraking cylons...
  • It'd be nice.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arpad1 (458649) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:01PM (#22759758)
    ..if there were some performance figures. I don't give that much of a damn how it looks if it runs like a son of a gun.
    • by szap (201293)
      Doesn't matter. See, this is where a "supercomputer" is unlike a super car: whatever spec it is, the computer will be hopelessly underpowered, and overpriced when compared with the average computer 5 years in the future.
  • I like simple. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nitemare14 (1256834)
    I'll stick with my simple and basic looking P180. It can be just as super as this toy with the same hardware, and it doesn't look like a crazy plastic turd.
  • Certain lazy tacos don't seem to feel the need to include a dept. name for certain posts. This will not go unpunished.
  • by Junta (36770) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:09PM (#22759790)
    This is a high-end dual socket box that incorporates cooling that is probably quieter than equivalent air cooling. It has nothing to do with the visions of 'supercomputer' and the word supercomputer itself is always a relative term. In 1993, the top supercomputer had 60 gigaflops, with a theoretical of 131 gigaflops. This system has a theoretical of 102 gigaflops and probably can get 80-85 gigaflops measured, so it would manage to beat the number 1 supercomputer of 15 years ago.

    Nowadays, the most recent list has the #500 supercomputer at nearly 6 teraflops (rpeak of 10 teraflops). Or, to quantify, the lowest of the top 500 is still 100 times more powerful than one of these boxes.

    Supercomputer in your palm, supercomputer in the desk, as long as you get to pick the year by which you declare what a 'supercomputer' is, you can declare whatever you want.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dissy (172727)

      Supercomputer in your palm, supercomputer in the desk, as long as you get to pick the year by which you declare what a 'supercomputer' is, you can declare whatever you want.

      This thing isn;t even a supercomputer of 15 years ago.

      One of the staples of being a supercomputer (same with mainframes) is their high availability.

      Will this system let you swap out CPUs or RAM while running? How bout all of the rest of the hardware?
      Can you perform a two or more stage swap over and upgrade the -entire- base of hardware, so that the applications on the OS don't even realize it happened, essentially replacing the entire system live?
      Can it detect bad/failed CPUs or newly added CPUs with desi

      • by Junta (36770)
        Availability in many of the supercomputer deployments is measured in percentage of the participating servers that stay up, not by continuous uptime. Applications may be killed off, but the job scheduler restarts them either from the beggining or a checkpoint. In the end, an application has executed a clean run, but instances of that application might have died a horrible death along the way. For the sake of cost, supercomputing has been in the business of migrating redundancy up toward tolerant software
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:12PM (#22759804) Journal
    FTA :"A further six months were spent on manufacturing a working prototype. The system was initially slated to use Intel's maligned V8 platform, but was later changed to the current Skulltrail - incorporating two quad-core CPUs natively running at 3.2GHz on a motherboard that supported four graphics cards - when the design became available.: Since when is that a modern supercomputer?
  • wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by darkwhite (139802) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:15PM (#22759818)
    Reminds me of the Badonkadonk land cruiser [amazon.com].

    Seriously, that design is stupendously atrocious. It looks like a blood-stained crib. There are a lot of ways to present modern server form factors in sexy ways; this is not one of them.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:22PM (#22759842) Homepage Journal
    That's not a supercomputer at all. It's just a casemodded,liquid cooled, 2-x86 CPU PC with 4 graphics cards:

    The system was initially slated to use Intel's maligned V8 platform, but was later changed to the current Skulltrail - incorporating two quad-core CPUs natively running at 3.2GHz on a motherboard that supported four graphics cards - when the design became available.


    The only thing any supercomputer has to do with that machine is that the vendor's tech director bought an old Cray:

    A little-known fact is that Armari's technical director, Dan Goldsmith, being the eccentric chap he is, bought a decommissioned Cray supercomputer - used in the Cold War - a while back. Cray's extra-large computers (by today's standards) required some serious cooling, as you would expect, and Cray engineered some class-leading liquid cooling to keep the voluminous beast operating within tolerances.

    Dan has used the inspiration from Cray's research, and indeed the coolant itself, which works in a temperature-range of -110C through to 90C, as a base for the XCP (eXtreme Concept Prototype) - the total immersion model.


    I bet my P4/4.3GHz non-super computer is faster than that old Cray. And there's no way a single 2*4*x86+4*GPU PC is a supercomputer [top500.org] at all.

    And that case is hella ugly.
  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jimktrains (838227) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:38PM (#22759920) Homepage
    Why do supercomputers need to look sexy? XT3's look good, but, I mean that might be more of me loving what's inside, but that's another story for another post. Most supercomputers are kept in machine/server rooms, no? People don't normally see these things, so why does it matter if they look sexy? Decent is enough.

    BTW, it's fugly:) (Ok, maybe not that bad, but I still don't like it).
  • SiCortex was at Supercomputing this last year and they also have a desktop supercomputer.

    In my opinion, it also looks a heck of a lot better than the cylone: http://sicortex.com/ [sicortex.com]
    • Plus it only draws <200W. I'm sure the torque placed on the earth from this XCP spinning an older power meter would not be insignificant.
  • Piece of shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Aaron Isotton (958761) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @12:44PM (#22759958)
    It's an ugly overpriced piece of shit. 10000 GBP (that's about 20000$) for a dual quad core running at 3.2 GHz in an ugly case? Come on. You can get a Mac Pro with the same speed for a *fourth* of the price. And it looks better.

    When a computer is four times more expensive than the equivalent from *Apple*, then you know that something is seriously wrong.
  • "A New Concept in PC Case Mods"
    • by PPH (736903)

      Exactly. And, as TFA says, a supercomputer "under your desk" makes all that kewl looking plastic sort of pointless.

      The dust bunnies might think its neat, but I'll never see it.

  • I see no new concept, and definitely not in supercomputer design. All I see an elaborate casemod with cooling. Not much system design went into that, I don't think. It's just a PC, a very normal one at that.
  • Concept cases (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @01:21PM (#22760118) Homepage

    This is a supercomputer?

    A few years ago, I was visiting a small PC manufacturer. They were trying for product differentiation from Dell, HP, etc., and had a row of "concept cases" on display. There was one with Viking horns. One like a Darth Vader mask. One something like this one. One that looked like a 1940s Telefunken radio. Some of these went into production. [polywell.com] If you really want a PC that looks like a yellow Samurai mask in plastic, they have some in stock.

    I saw one of the Viking horn models in a surplus store recently.

    • by 680x0 (467210)
      I have one of the Smilodon cases on that page (bought from a dealer). Very solid and good looking too. The fold-down motherboard tray is particularly nice. And hard-disk-clips for easy installation/removal (not the nicest clips I've seen, but certainly usable).
    • by sznupi (719324)
      Viking horns case...wish I could find this one here :> (forgotten ;) country in central Europe)
  • Here is what a current real supercomputer looks like:
    http://domino.research.ibm.com/comm/pr.nsf/pages/rsc.bluegene_2004.html [ibm.com]

    Besides, how energy efficient is this design? The next gen supercomputers will likely not just be measured in flops but, flops/watt.

  • ...but even with all that power can it run Vista?
  • I took the editors' title of this story too literally.

    Now this [sicortex.com] is a new concept in supercomputers.

    • It seems to be more about torturing a developer to force them to know how to write scalable/portable applications than being an actual practical platform. Sure, 72 cores sounds cool, but being a merely respectible 72 gigaflops (each core is simply a gigaflop) it's bested by a dual-socket Core 2 based workstation with quad core 2.33 in each socket. Practically speaking, many cores is helpful, but the same amount of performance in fewer cores is more flexible. It is a bicycle with training wheels for devel
  • not a supercomputer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wap911 (637820) on Saturday March 15, 2008 @06:04PM (#22761708)
    this is much better [reported prior on /.] http://gravity.phy.umassd.edu/ps3.html [umassd.edu] 16 PS3 cell processors for approximately 400 nodes and not a bad price 16 * $500us or $8000 [less if you can stand ebay]
  • Actually, it kinda looks like K9, without the head.

    Yes...mahster!

    --Rob

  • My notebook is WAY more powerful than the original Cray XMP

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cray_X-MP [wikipedia.org]

  • This is by far a "supercomputer". State of the art (art notwithstanding) bleeding edge desktop? Perhaps. Unconventional? Not today. Overly expensive? For sure...

    If you get any reputable PC mag I'm sure they have a modder section with some pretty far out PCs.
  • You can put that noisy hot computer in a special ACed room which we would call, "The Computer Room" and have the monitor keyboard and mouses in the office, much like this picture [solarnavigator.net]
  • How is a few racks each packed with 80 1U servers, louder than a jet engine, requiring 500 MW of cooling, 30 miles of cable and a million LED's not sexy?

    perhaps that just me...
  • ...Does it have enough juice to run Vista with all the bells and whistles turned on?
  • How exactly does a more-or-less desktop PC with more-or-less mundane parts qualify as a supercomputer?

    Is it about the transparent parts?
  • Put some extra egyptian hieroglyphs on the box and it will blend in
    nicely with any Stargate film set. I wouldn't be surprised if some
    marketing droid at Cray came up with the idea of transferring the
    bad-ass high-powered alien technology meme onto the product.
  • What is a supercomputer these days anyway? I'd say it has to be something that meets a special need, because applications that bottleneck on CPU speed alone these days are few and far between. Sure, you can probably find a lot of algorithms that use 100% of a few dozen processors, but try running it on a cluster of hundreds or thousands and the problem size for an individual node becomes so small that the process becomes I/O bound.

    I vote that to be classified as a supercomputer, a system needs to have somet

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