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Is Intel Eating AMD's Supercomputing Lunch?

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The Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers has been updated. It looks like Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) made some serious headway with the high performance of its Nehalem (Xeon 5500) processors.

The average megacomputer today is an Intel-based system running some version of the Linux operating system, according to the new data. Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows grabbed only 1% of the list, and none of the top 10 slots. The top system builders for performance-hungry academic, financial, and government computing needs are Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) with a 42.4% share of this list, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) at 37.6%, with Silicon Graphics International (NYSE: SGI  ) and Cray (Nasdaq: CRAY  ) at 4%.

While the list looks fairly static from most angles -- all of the system builders and operating system providers stayed within shouting distance of the results from last November -- Intel stole a good chunk of prestigious real estate on this list over the last six months. The chip giant moved up from 75.4% to 79.8%, as the Nehalem alone gained a 6.6% foothold in just three months on the market.

IBM only lost a net of five systems using its processor family, or 1%, while Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) took a bigger hit, dropping from 12.2% share six months ago to just 8.6% today.

Despite Intel's vast dominance in numbers, IBM is the dominant force behind five supercomputers among the world's 10 fastest, and AMD powers another three (although its processors make an appearance in four of the behemoths). Intel only holds two of those elite spots. The fastest computer alive right now is the "Roadrunner" IBM system that crunches numbers for the U.S. Department of Energy -- with 129,600 processor cores. Sorry, but your homebuilt quad-core box didn't quite make the list. The smallest system here takes 1,152 cores. Maybe next year?

The Top 500 list may seem like a pointless academic exercise, but it's actually a well-respected benchmark that serves as a real marketing tool. It's a way for smaller players like SGI and Cray to get their trade names in front of corporate system buyers, and for the big boys to claim superiority over one another as they negotiate contracts large and small. Besides all that, it's a way to keep track of which high-performance computing platforms are actually being used in the real world.

So the Nehalem architecture is already paying dividends for Intel -- mostly at AMD's expense. We'll have to wait for the next November update to get a read on AMD's Istanbul counterpunch.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of AMD, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2009, at 6:43 PM, Asmasian wrote:

    Foolish as it may seem:

    For the third straight time, the AMD Opteron processor helps power the number one “Roadrunner” supercomputer; The Cray “Jaguar” supercomputer based on Quad-Core AMD Opteron processors at Oak Ridge National Labs is number two; AMD is utilized in nine of the top 20 supercomputers, more than any other processor provider; Four of the top 10 supercomputers use AMD Opteron processors; The AMD Opteron processor powers 20 Cray supercomputers, including six in the top 25; The recently launched Six-Core AMD Opteron processor (formerly code-named “Istanbul”) has already appeared in two Cray XT5 supercomputers; The top two academic research supercomputers are based on Quad-Core AMD Opteron processors – “Kraken” at the University of Tennessee is number six and “Ranger” at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is number eight.

    So, it still seems to me that Intel has others doing their advertising for them...ha ha ha!

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2009, at 7:32 PM, MotleyFoolIsBias wrote:

    Once again The Fool shows its complete and utter bias against AMD. As the original poster said above, AMD Opteron's are also used in the #1 Roadrunner Supercomputer. You're constant cheer leading is blindly apparent and pathetic.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2009, at 8:42 PM, SnarfJabroni wrote:


    You're kidding, right? You may want to search this author's previous musings, he is one of the biggest AMD fanbois around, and his VERY FIRST stock purchase ever as a yound lad was AMD, and he has been holding that bag and pumping AMD ever since!


    It's pretty funny that you trumpet any AMD Opterons within an IBM HPC system, or ANY HPC system for that matter...their HPC ranking is purely from throwing a sheer VOLUME of AMD commodity CPUs/cores into a system...woo hoo!

    The #1 system, Roadrunner, is stocked with IBM's PowerXCell 8i 3.2 Ghz, and has some rudementary AMD Opteron Dual Core 1.8Ghz processors for managing memory and other menial tasks. In fact, it's not even considered an AMD system.

    The #2 Cray system, took 150,152 AMD cores to reach that Number 2 status. To give you a barometer, the #4 overall system, a NASA system with Intel Xeon Quad Cores, took a mere 51,200 cores to reach the 4th most powerful supercomputer.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2009, at 8:59 AM, kriswone wrote:

    The information supplied in this article is largely FALSE.

    AMD sits @ #1, #2, #6, #8.

    please read official press release on this issue:

    This article is bias in several ways.

    i now know why this site is

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2009, at 9:03 AM, kriswone wrote:

    snarfjabroni, that is not a barometer, that's underfunding of NASA.

    Jokingly, it's the same "price wise"

    150K amd's = 51k intel's.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2009, at 2:57 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    For the record, I submitted the story with AMD's top-10 count at 4 systems. The changing of wording was due to my editor erroneously excluding the Opterons used in the RoadRunner system. That being said, while we regret the error and aim to be as factually accurate as possible, the small use of Opterons on the top system doesn't fundamentally change the take-away from the June list. In ace you missed that part, Iäm trying to say that Nehalem seems to have stolen some thunder from AMD lately, but Istanbul should strike back in the November tally.

    You may now return to your regularly scheduled news and analysis. Film at 11.


  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2009, at 6:51 PM, SnarfJabroni wrote:


    "snarfjabroni, that is not a barometer, that's underfunding of NASA"

    Umm, not quite. I am certain that if NASA needs more than the FOURTH MOST POWERFUL COMPUTER ON THE PLANET, that they will build it.

    'Jokingly, it's the same "price wise""

    Not jokingly....PROVE IT!

    "150K amd's = 51k intel's."

    That's about does take a 3:1 ratio for AMD to match Intel performance.

    If you look at the #2 Cray jaguar system, it has 150K Opteron cores, and an RMax of 1059 TFlops.

    The #4 NASA Xeon system has an RMax of 487 TFlops, and only 51K Xeon cores.

    So 46% of the performance, but 1/3 of the cores, of the AMD system...yikes, AMD fanbois really think this is a GOOD thing to brag about?

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