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AMD processors made their way from Dubi to Iran, only to show up in Iran's most powerful supercomputer

Iran has a supercomputer constructed with 216 AMD processors, and it's got a lot of websites pretty mad. 

The whole thing reads like an advertisement really.  "An enormously powerful supercomputer" proclaims Slashdot. "such advanced U.S. computing technology is a real breach in U.S. sanctions," warns a UPI editor.

It's true that U.S. semiconductors are banned from entering Iranian borders, but I wonder if those editors know the computing power 860 gigaFLOPS really commands in the HPC world.

A total of four PlayStation 3s running Linux have just a hair less computing power than this computer.  A pair of IBM's newest and tiniest BladeCenter QS21 servers would out-compute Iran's new supercomputer without breaking a sweat.

InformationWeek was quick to get a quote on the story: "AMD fully complies with all United States export control laws, and all authorized distributors of AMD products have contractually committed to AMD that they will do the same with respect to their sales and shipments of AMD products ... Any shipment of AMD products to Iran by any authorized distributor of AMD would be a breach of the specific provisions of their contracts with AMD."

Just for comparison, IBM's BlueGene/L, the world's fastest publicly-known supercomputer, runs at a mere 478 teraFLOPs.

Amirkabir University of Technology, owner of the supercomputer, claims the system is for weather forecasting -- incidentally using the MM5 platform developed by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

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RE: This Reminds Me...
By ttour on 12/12/2007 4:05:02 PM , Rating: 2
The whole point concerning the vacuum tubes is, they were/are the "Best of Breed" reliable technologies at the time the system was designed and implemented and can be utilized efficently, and cheaply in a (high) power generation section of radar systems, and I think it's really a standard way to design and implement radar systems. Most likely, radar is what we're talking about as one of the primary "detection" technologies there. Also, vacuum tubes were probably easily obtainable and the systems easily maintained. The vacuum tubes reported in the building I don't see it as unusual, especially since we are talking russian technology 40 years ago or longer when the site was implemented, (not sure of the history there for that site but I'm guessing it's been there in some form or another for a long time). Nothing wrong with cheap, reliable and easy maintenance. Also I don't think vacuum tubes are sensitive to Electro-Magnetic Pulses that can wipe out electronic systems. Important only if the other side gets a little giddy with war toys.

RE: This Reminds Me...
By maven81 on 12/12/2007 5:48:17 PM , Rating: 2
That's a good point... just because certain circuitry is old fasioned, it doesn't automatically mean it's crap. Witness the revival of analog, which no one wanted for around 2 decades!
I do remember reading somewhere that this installation was built in the 80s which is why I wonder how true that claim about tubes actually is. But I also recall that they were in use in the 70s. In fact I've actually come across russian schematics at one point, which used tubes, transistors AND chips all together! Which tells me the designers of that time were less worried about bleeding edge tech, and more concerned about getting something to work well.
I just don't buy into this myth that their tech somehow didn't work or was a joke. Witness nonsense like "space cowboys". As far as I know tubes were never used in ANY space missions! (unless you count vidicon tv cameras)

RE: This Reminds Me...
By ziggo on 12/12/2007 11:41:36 PM , Rating: 2
As requested a link to reference the vacuum tube claim:

I don't think, at least I hope, that they are not using the tubes for processing, I think they are using magnetrons to generate the energy. As for the claim that the old technology is better:

From the "Radar Handbook" 2nd Edition (it is 1200 pages long; "handbook" indeed)

Solid-state devices have largely superseded vacuum tubes in logic and other low-power circuits and even in some very high power applications such as power supplies and power converters below 1 MHz. The only exception seems to be cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), which are less costly than large plasma displays. In radar transmitters, the transition from high-power klystrons, traveling-wave tubes (TWTs), crossed-field amplifiers (CFAs), and magnetrons to solid-state has been more gradual because the power output of individual solid-state devices is quite limited. However, compared with tubes, solid-state devices offer many advantages:

No hot cathodes are required; therefore, there is no warmup delay, no wasted heater power, and virtually no limit on operating life.

Device operation occurs at much lower voltages; therefore, power supply voltages are on the order of volts rather than kilovolts. This avoids the need for large spacings, oil filling, or encapsulation, thus saving size and weight and leading to higher reliability of the power supplies as well as of the microwave power amplifiers themselves.

Transmitters designed with solid-state devices exhibit improved mean time between failures (MTBF) in comparison with tube-type transmitters. Module MTBFs greater than 100,000 h have been measured.

No pulse modulator is required. Solid-state microwave devices for radar generally operate Class-C, which is self-pulsing as the RF drive is turned on and off.

Graceful degradation of system performance occurs when modules fail. This results because a large number of solid-state devices must be combined to provide the power for a radar transmitter, and they are easily combined in ways that degrade gracefully when individual units fail. Overall power output, in decibels, degrades only as 20 log r, where r is the ratio of operating to total amplifiers.

Extremely wide bandwidth can be realized. While high-power microwave radar tubes can achieve 10 to 20 percent bandwidth, solid-state transmitter modules can achieve up to 50 percent bandwidth or more with good efficiency.

Flexibility can be realized for phased array applications. For phased array systems, an active transceiver module can be associated with every antenna element. RF distribution losses that normally occur in a tube-powered system between a point-source tube amplifier and the face of the array are thus eliminated. In addition, phase shifting for beam steering can be implemented at low power levels on the input feed side of an active array module; this avoids the high-power losses of the phase shifters at the radiating elements and raises overall efficiency. Also, peak RF power levels at any point are relatively low since the outputs are combined only in space. Furthermore, amplitude tapering can be accomplished by turning off or attenuating individual active array amplifiers.

Also, you will notice in the nytimes article above the Russian radar is functional as an early warning radar, but to precisely track a ballistic missile for a mid-course (exoatmospheric) intercept you need that radar to be more capable than its hardware permits.

Analog still has its uses, particularly in the signal processing world, where simple analog filters can offer more throughput than the best IC designs.

I did screw up the location of the Russian radar, but in my defense, the Russians do have 6 early warning radars in Kazakhstan

RE: This Reminds Me...
By ziggo on 12/12/2007 11:43:53 PM , Rating: 2

FYI.. A magnetron in a type of vacuum tube. One of the oldest designs, but very power efficient. It is what is used in microwaves to generate the RF energy.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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