Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL to evaluate novel supercomputer

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 4, 1998 — Next-generation computing is just a processor or two away for the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which has been designated by DOE to evaluate the first in a new line of supercomputers from the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based SRC Computers Inc.

The SRC 6 supercomputer is the first release of an innovative computer design developed by the Colorado firm founded by Seymour R. Cray. The computer features a combination of high performance features not available with conventional massively parallel computer designs. By acquiring the SRC 6, the DOE Office of Energy Research adds another contender for achieving computers exceeding 40 teraops by 2003. A teraop is a trillion mathematical calculations per second.

"This project shows the Department of Energy's commitment to exploring the frontiers of computing," said Martha Krebs, director of DOE's Office of Energy Research. "A crucial part of this evaluation is determining the effectiveness of this type of supercomputer for solving scientific problems critical to DOE missions. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's experience under DOE's high-performance computing program positions it to effectively carry out this work."

ORNL plans to purchase two SRC 6 units for the evaluation process, which will cover systems and components as well as methods to connect multi-processor units. This and the evaluation process will be a joint effort between ORNL and SRC.

Ken Kliewer, director of the ORNL Center for Computational Sciences, which will conduct the evaluation, sees the acquisition of the SRC 6 as a leap toward the next century.

"The SRC design is truly innovative," Kliewer said. "Having the opportunity to provide the first detailed examination of a novel system like this does not occur often. Needless to say, we are delighted and are looking with great anticipation to working with SRC Computers on this important project."

"As with all machines designed by Seymour Cray, high-performance memory design is a key feature," Kliewer said. "By using large numbers of memory banks and a separate memory port for each processor, memory throughput and system performance are dramatically improved over bus-based systems."

Kliewer also noted that the SRC 6 complies with the DOE philosophy of using commodity off-the-shelf components and systems while incorporating a noteworthy level of innovation. The SRC 6 will use Intel's Pentium II Xeon processors with clock speeds exceeding 400 megahertz. The SRC 7 is expected to use Intel's 64-bit Merced processors. The SRC 6 will also use static RAM memory, which improves memory access time by a factor of three.

Among the novel features of this design is its use of field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for both communication and computing tasks. FPGAs are electrical circuits that programmers can configure to implement algorithms resulting in a speedup of the calculation. The appropriate way of mixing traditional computer tasks and FPGA tasks for a given problem will be an important component of the SRC 6 evaluation process.

"We expect the SRC 6 to out-perform other designs of comparable CPU power and to be far easier to program," Kliewer said. "We are anticipating the participation of many users with a large variety of applications codes in our SRC 6 evaluation. And we expect them to be impressed with the machine, both in performance and ease of use."

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.