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Orion puts 'super' into the personal computer. [But can it play Pong!]

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A startup computer maker is putting 'super' into the personal computer. Orion Multisystems said it would have two models of its Orion Cluster Workstation available at the end of the year that use up to 96 chips in a desktop-sized machine.

The company is led by two of the co-founders of chip maker Transmeta and the personal supercomputers will use the low-power, cool-running Efficeon chips to power them. It has received an undisclosed amount of funding by Battery Ventures.

'We already have strong demand for our Cluster Workstations from major corporations and institutions in a variety of industries,' said Colin Hunter, president and CEO, Orion Multisystems. 'We expect to take full advantage of the multi-billion dollar business opportunity that exists for high performance technical computing.'

Orion's closest competitors are the likes of SGI, IBM, HP and Sun that build Unix- and Linux-based workstations using one or two processors.

But using clustering technology, Orion's machines incorporate a special motherboard that harnesses the power of up to 12 chips in the 'desktop' model, and up to 96 such 'nodes' using 12 boards in the 'deskside' version.

The company claims the DT-12 desktop offers 36 Gflops peak performance (18 Gflops sustained), with up to 24GB of DDR SDRAM memory and up to 1TB of internal disk storage. Yet with a sub 220 Watt power draw it can be plugged into a standard power supply.

The DS-96 deskside Cluster Workstation boasts 300 gigaflops (Gflops) peak performance (150 Gflops sustained), up to 192GB of memory and up to 9.6TB of storage. However, the company claims the system is still small enough to fit under a desk.

Both models run Linux-based operating systems and will support software written for Linux clustered environments.

Key targets for the personal supercomputers will be those working with computationally complex tasks such as engineering, scientific, financial and creative professionals.

'An important need exists in research and industry for very high performance computers for individual users, because currently available systems are either ad hoc collections of commodity PCs or data center-sized shared resources with expensive power and cooling costs, and systems software that lacks functionality and maturity,' said Dr. Horst Simon, director, National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The desktop is expected to cost less than $10,000, while the deskside will cost less than $100,000, according to the company.


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