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Researchers build flea-market supercomputer

July 9, 1998
Web posted at: 12:20 PM EDT

Avalon uses 68 DEC Alpha processors connected in parallel.   
by Stan Miastkowski

(IDG) -- Lots of advanced PC users--especially those handy with tools--build their own computers from standard parts and pieces. It's kind of the 1990s equivalent of tinkering under the hood of an automobile. And it does allow you to build powerful PCs at bargain-basement prices.

But a do-it-yourself computer now working in New Mexico definitely sets a record.

The computer--dubbed Avalon--was put together by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. government installation that conducts advanced scientific research. They assembled the system in three days using off-the-shelf parts bought retail.


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Avalon is far from a PC. It is, in fact, a true supercomputer, one of the 500 fastest in the world.

Avalon uses 68 Digital Equipment Corporation Alpha processors connected in parallel, and its operating system is Linux, downloaded for free off the Web. Instead of the multimillion-dollar price of most supercomputers, Avalon came in at the bargain-basement price of $150,000.

It's now crunching away on scientific data at 19.2 billion operations per second, many orders of magnitude beyond even the most powerful and expensive PCs.

A Los Alamos spokesperson says that Linux is the key to Avalon's success. After six weeks of operation, stressed well beyond its theoretical failure point, Avalon hasn't crashed once.

Just try that with Windows.

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