It's alive: New supercomputer reborn from old supercomputer parts

Older system rides again at Carnegie Mellon University.

An older supercomputer from the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been cannibalized and rebuilt into a new one, thanks to a team from Carnegie Mellon University.

The older system was called Cerrillos, which was once the 29th-fastest supercomputer in the world, according to the Top500 list from November 2009. Cerrillos was a smaller offshoot of Roadrunner, a more powerful machine that was once the fastest in the world, and the first to break the 1 petaflop performance barrier. Both machines were shut down in 2013.

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Four hundred and forty-eight blade computers from Cerrillos will be used to power Narwhal, a far smaller computer with a total of 1,792 processor cores to Cerrillos' 14,400. (Roadrunner boasted fully 122,400.) The project's leader, computer science professor Garth Gibson, said in a statement that the new machine will nevertheless be a powerful teaching aid.

"Roadrunner and Cerrillos may be retired, but even a sliver of these machines' core capabilities is more capable than most educational computing resources," he said.

Narwhal will use the Roadrunner/Cerrillos technology somewhat differently, according to CMU. The original systems used large numbers of IBM Cell processors for computational heavy lifting, alongside AMD Opterons for more basic workloads. Narwhal won't need as many specialized Cell processors, so the institution opted for additional AMD blades.

CMU said that Narwhal's main use will be as a teaching tool for students conducting research into parallel computing and infrastructure. The school will also purchase a 400-disk storage array to complement Narwhal.

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