Seymour Cray — known as
the “father of supercom-puting” — founded Cray
Research. The road has
been bumpy, with
mergers, spin-offs, the
departures of key management, and a disastrous
enough balance sheet that
Cray stock was selling for
$1.38 per share in 2005 (although it
has recovered to around $10 as of this
writing). In the first nine months of last
year, the company lost $20.8 million on
revenues of $119.6 million. That, however, was better than the $55.1 million
loss during the same period in 2005.
In any event, Cray is predicting a
profitable 2007, based largely on its
new XT4 machine. Previously code-named “Hood,” it is derived from the
XT3™ architecture, which uses massively
parallel processing (MPP). The XT4 can
be scaled up to as many as 30,000
AMD Opteron processors and provide
better than one petaflops of performance (yes, that’s 1,000,000,000,000
floating point operations per second).
The company seems to be back on
track in the sales department as well, with
announced orders from Oak Ridge National Lab, the National Energy Research
Scientific Computing Center, and the
Finnish IT Center for Science. The system is currently equipped with dual-core
processors, but it is designed to be easily upgraded to quad-core chips. If you
are interested in the technical details, just
unless you have a DoD-sized wallet, it
will probably be sufficient to know that
the XT4 achieves its performance and
scalability with the help of its SeaStar2™
interconnect chips, through which the
This is superior to the cluster
architecture in which many processors
share a common interface. The machine
represents the first product in the
Rainier program, which is the first phase
of its forward-looking Adaptive Super-computing concept.
PHOTO COURTES Y OF IBM.
■ Cross-section micrograph of the
phase-change memory bridge.
Judging by the prototype, it can switch
500 times faster than Flash while using
half the power to write to a data cell.
Its cross section is just 3 by 20 nm,
equivalent to the chip industry’s target
for the year 2015 and considerably
smaller than Flash memory’s apparent
downward limit of 45 nm (below
which it is no longer nonvolatile).
At the heart of phase-change
memory is a chunk of a semiconductor alloy that can be changed rapidly
between an ordered, crystalline phase
having lower electrical resistance to a
disordered, amorphous phase with
much higher resistance. Because no
electrical power is required to
maintain either phase of the material,
phase-change memory is nonvolatile.
It’s premature to junk your hard drives
and Flash memories, though, because
a commercial version of the prototype
is probably several years away.
CRAY BACK IN THE GAME?
■ Cray’s new XT4™ supercomputer
uses massively parallel processors to
achieve peak performance of greater
than one petaflops.
The history of Cray, Inc., stretches
back to 1972, when founder
You may have noticed an interesting
phenomenon in which your
Internet searches turn up the same relatively useless results regardless of what
search engine you use. This occurs
because typical search engines for the
most part troll only what is termed the
“surface web” and ignore the “deep
web,” which includes accessible but not
easily spidered material such as graphic
files, searchable databases, and other
useful sources of information.
The solution is to go deep using a
meta-search engine, which is an entity
that performs a search of other searches and consolidates the results. There
are several out there, but a good
starting point is
showcase site offered by Loop
Improvements LLC to demonstrate its
Net Research Server (NRS).
IncyWincy has spidered and
indexed some 150 million pages plus
hundreds of thousands of search
engines, and you can even refine your
search to turn up only web pages,
forms, or images. It also includes a
directory in case you want to look in
general subject areas. If Google and
Yahoo! let you down, give it a try.
FLASH IN THE PAN?
PHOTO COURTESY OF DYNAMISM.
■ These USB drives come in several
The folks at
dedicated to marketing innovative
consumer technology from Japan and
other regions, and they tend to focus on
notebooks, digital cameras, PDAs, and
so on. But with all due respect, I must
bestow upon them the award for bringing forth this month’s Most Ridiculous
Product. Consider Sushi Disk, a
collection of hand-built USB drives that
are made to look like a piece of sushi.
Among the choices are futomaki (large
roll, 256 MB, $99), otoro (fat tuna, 1
GB, $219), mentai (pickled cod roe,
February 2007 9