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Michael Dell talks about the next Generation of Supercomputers

Yesterday, in Texas, the annual Supercomputing 2008 trade show began with a speech from Michael Dell – chief executive of computer company Dell. Dell have often dabbled in high performance computing (HPC) and from his keynote speech it would appear that Mr Dell wants to delve further into the HPC area. However, his speech was reportedly more like a hardcore sales pitch.

Dell made a few points in his speech that described what the next generation of supercomputing could turn out like.

He began by showing how far we have to go to design a power efficient, easily programmable, redundant supercomputer. He said that the human brain has around 100 billion neurons, each with around a 1000 or so synapses, each running at near 20 petaflops of “raw computing performance”, which is it was to be built today (which it can’t) would break through the petaflops barrier and would cost an estimated $3.6bn (£2.4bn). He rounded off his comparison by saying: “The human brain uses about 20 watts of energy, so we evidently still have a long way to go.”

Someone from the crowd asked Dell what would it tale to simulate the human brain, and Dell shrugged off the question saying that he never suggested simulating the brain, what he meant to demonstrate that HPC clusters are not so great when compared to mother nature.

“For me, the dream and the excitement about computers was not to replace the human brain,” Dell said. However, he believes that more can be done to change the way people act with machines: “It is a fairly rudimentary process today. We type keys and something happens. I think there is an enormous opportunity to improve the man-machine interface.”

Dell spoke on the “three waves of supercomputing”, which according to him included specialised vector machines and proprietary operating systems in the 70s, followed by microprocessors during the 80s and 90s, and toward the end of the 90s standards-based parallel clusters. He says that the 4th wave will “deliver higher density machines”, most likely in Blade or other custom form factors with pools of shared storage, and focus on a constant hassle of running an administering them. Dell went on to show figures from Tabor Research, a supercomputing market researcher, showing that around 70 percent of HPC budgets are eaten up by staff and administrative items in the budget.

Dell wants to encourage cheap HPC setups, just like it did with its servers and home PC’s in the past, and would like to see some businesses and developing countries have them.

He said that five years ago, a teraflops of computing cost around $1m, but these days you could get about 25 times as much for the same price. The density has not gone up as much as the price has dropped, but it’s still pretty impressive. Just three years ago, Dell said that a 2,500 core cluster with 1,250 servers using 3GHz x64 processors would deliver near o 9.8 teraflops. These days a 1,240 core machine using just 155 servers will deliver 10.7 terraflops – a 90 percent reduction in servers.

Dell Blames ‘Soft’ Computer Sales for Share Slump

Computer manufacturer Dell’s shares fell by 8.3 percent in early Wall Street trading today. The drop came after the firm warned investors that it would see a “further softening” in computer sales this quarter.

In a short statement released by the company, it said it was “seeing further global softening in the global end-user demand in the current quarter.”

Dell also admitted that it will be hit with heavy costs associated with the realigning of its business – one that continues to operate in the shadow of Hewlett-Packard.

Over the past year the company has undergone a testing re-structuring exercise, and has plans to make 9,000 employees worldwide redundant.

The Company’s owner Michael Dell recently tried to reassure investors by vowing to save $3bn in annual costs by cutting back on staff and shifting to lower cost producers.

In August Dell posted a surprise 17 per cent drop in profits for its second quarter. At the time Dell said that the loss of earnings was a result of technology spending slowdowns and its expansion into Europe and Asia.

Although the company admitted that demand for its products would diminish this quarter, the company still expects growth to be better than its rivals for the full year. Dell’s directors will address its investors about its losses in more detail later today at the Bank of America 38th Annual Conference in San Francisco.

This is more bad news for the industry after HP’s announcement that 25,000 of its employees would lose their jobs as part of Mark Hurd’s “restructuring program” following his company’s takeover of EDS last month.

Dell Unveils Green Machine’s

Dell, in keeping with Apple?s Mac mini and HP?s Slimline series, have unveiled the Dell Studio Hybrid.

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Roughly the size of a motel-bible, the Studio Hybrid is roughly 80 percent smaller than the average size desktop mini-tower and uses significantly less energy, according to Dell. Dell also announced two new Inspiron PCs: the Inspiron 13 laptop and Inspiron 518 desktop.

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The Studio Hybrid, so called because it uses a mobile processor in a desktop, measures 8.8 by 3 by 8.3 inches, and comes in a variety of interchangeable external finishes and colour sleeves; bamboo, emerald, quartz, ruby, sapphire, slate, and topaz.

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The system is powered by Intel Core Duo processors ranging in speed form 1.86 GHz to 2.6 GHz, an comes with up to 4GB of memory and up to a 320GB hard drive. Customers have the option of upgrading the standard CD/DVD burner to a Blu-ray disc drive. The graphics are handled by Intel?s Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator X3100. The Studio Hybrid also comes with DVI and HDMI posts and an optional TV tuner and remote.

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“It packs a lot in that small package. It’s a small desktop, but it’s using a mobile processor, so what that enables is a high level of computing performance but in a smaller package because mobile processors are more thermally sensitive. Even though it looks small, it’s still a powerhouse,” Richard Shim, an IDC analyst, said.

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The Studio Hybrid is also designed to be environmentally friendly. Its all part of Dell?s promise to reduce the power output of its systems by 25 percent by the year 2010.

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“This is part of that movement, part of the general desktop PC market dynamics, where all the manufacturers are trying to get smaller and sleeker in an effort to be more energy sensitive and pay attention to style and design,” Shim said.

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To ensure that they are maintaining their green credentials, Dell are now using 30 percent les packing material and 75 percent less documentation than the average tower desktop, the company claims. The packaging materials used are also 95 percent recyclable.

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The systems go on sale on Tuesday. The Studio Hybrid starts at US$499. Personalising the system with a Bamboo cover will cost $130; however, other colours are included in the price.