Mirror, Mirror On The Wall Whose Computer Is Fastest Of All?

Although best known for the microprocessors that serve as the brains of IBM-type personal computers, Intel Corp. is also a leader in massively parallel computers. These machines have hundreds of microprocessors and quickly solve complex problems using each processor for a piece of the puzzle.

Intel and archrival Thinking Machines Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., are now fighting over bragging rights for the fastest massively parallel computer. In June, Intel boasted that its newest supercomputer, the Touchstone Delta System installed at the California Institute of Technology, had topped the world speed record set a few months earlier by Thinking Machines. Outfitted with 528 of Intel's two-year-old i860 reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) processors, the Delta breezed through 8.6 gigaflops, or billions of floating-point operations per second. A week later, Thinking Machines edged back on top, claiming 9.03 gigaflops for its CM-200 machine.

That same day, Intel unveiled a souped-up RISC chip, the i860 XP. It will be the heart of a new class of massively parallel supers called Touchstone Sigma. Intel expects to demonstrate that technology late this year and projects a peak speed of 150 gigaflops. In the meantime, the Caltech machine has reclaimed the lead at 11.9 gigaflops.

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