sealPurdue News

January 5, 2001

Purdue's supercomputer ranked third
among U.S. universities

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University's supercomputer is the third most powerful at U.S. academic institutions, according to a recently released listing.

Purdue's IBM computer, which became operational in July, is surpassed only by similar systems at the University of North Carolina and the University of Minnesota, according to the most recent Top500 List supercomputer list, which is updated twice a year. The listing, available on the Internet is compiled by computer scientists at the University of Tennessee and the University of Mannheim, Germany.

Purdue engineers, scientists and graduate students use supercomputers for high-performance applications such as work aimed at understanding the effects of turbulence on aircraft, modeling the structures of molecules and viruses, designing more effective drugs and studying the human genome or global climate change.

Having ready access to such a powerful system also helps scientists and engineers attract research funding.

"The upgraded system has definitely made a big difference in our research program, and when we write research proposals, now we can list it as a significant resource," said Steven Frankel, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Internationally, the computer, called an IBM RS/6000 SP, was rated 12th most powerful among systems at academic institutions and 72nd overall, which includes computers operated by government and commercial facilities worldwide. The top 500 list was released in November.

Purdue is one of four Big Ten universities on the list, sharing that distinction with Minnesota, which ranked 55th overall; Indiana University, which ranked 373rd; and Pennsylvania State University, 489th.

However, staying on top of the competition will require regular upgrading; supercomputers are constantly evolving.

"If we want to maintain our status in this area and be able to support research projects at the highest level, then we will have to upgrade every couple of years or so," said John Steele, director of the Purdue University Computing Center.

In fact, when the machine's installation was announced in June, it would have rated 50th most powerful overall in the TOP500 list at that time. In the new list the upgraded Purdue computer has already slid to 72nd.

Before Purdue's supercomputer was upgraded, researchers often had to use machines at other institutions. For example, Frankel's group performed its most demanding calculations at a supercomputer at the University of Illinois. However, that sort of arrangement has several drawbacks. Researchers must regularly write new proposals requesting the use of outside computers. Then, if approved, only a certain amount of computer time is allocated.

"You are always bumping up against that allocation limit," Frankel said. "It limits your science. It limits the type of freedom that you have to do your calculations."

Purdue's supercomputer also provides educational benefits. The machine enables students to study larger, more complex problems in greater detail than would have otherwise been possible, which helps students remain competitive with their peers at other major research universities, said engineering graduate student David Glaze.

"Having a supercomputer readily available to all Purdue graduate students is a tremendous asset," Glaze said. "I know for a fact that students in the computational sciences feel it's important to have a modern supercomputer available."

The ratings are based on a computer's performance in solving "a dense system of linear equations," according to the TOP500 Web site.

Purdue's previous supercomputer was not among the top 500. The upgraded supercomputer is more than 15 times as powerful as the university's previous system. It contains 272 parallel processors with a total memory of 288 gigabytes, or roughly 4,000 times more memory than typical personal computers now on the market.

Sources: John Steele, (765) 494-9646,

Steven Frankel, (765) 494-1507,

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Other source: William Whitson, (765) 496-8227,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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