A consortium of 14 U.S. research institutions led by the California Institute of Technology is scheduled to announce today that it will purchase a custom-designed supercomputer from Intel Corp. to help solve a series of scientific "grand challenges."
The project, known as the Concurrent Supercomputing Consortium, is one of the most significant endorsements to date of a style of computing known as parallel processing, which chains together many processors and breaks up problems to solve them more quickly.
The machine, whose design is an outgrowth of several research projects backed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or Darpa, will be used in areas like modeling global climate changes and complex chemical reactions; visualization of scientific data from the Magellan and Galileo spacecraft, and military research.
Supercomputers, described as the fastest systems available at any particular time, are used for scientific research and engineering design. The market for supercomputers has been growing rapidly in recent years and they are now widely used in industries as diverse as petroleum, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, media and entertainment.
Analysts said that the research leading to the development of the new massively parallel machine is a vindication for the defense agency and for the value of its research for U.S. high-technology companies.
The agency has been criticized by some in the Bush administration for supporting research designed to back specific technologies and companies threatened by international competition.
The machine, called the Delta System, is based on an array of 528 Intel i860 microprocessors, which are designed to perform mathematical operations at high speed.
Meanwhile, at the Comdex/Fall computer show in Las Vegas yesterday, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
raised the stakes in its attempt to break Intel Corp.'s monopoly on one of the most popular microprocessors used in personal computers, showing off a chip that appears to match the functions of Intel's 80386DX microprocessor.
Intel has been the sole source of 386 chips for five years, and it has become the standard for millions of high-performance, IBM-compatible personal computers. Intel is waging a bitter legal battle to keep AMD from selling the chip to computer-makers.