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Edinburgh University develops energy efficient supercomputer

The University of Edinburgh has built an energy-efficient supercomputer that does not rely on power hungry microprocessors.

The university is hoping its technology will catch on amongst big computer users faced with spiralling energy costs.

The Maxwell supercomputer is based on technology invented in Scotland and constructed by the FPGA High Performance Computing Alliance. The system uses Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) as an alternative to conventional microprocessors.

More powerful than a conventional system of a similar size and using ten times less power, Maxwell is delivering new levels of computational performance for real-world industrial applications, said the university.

Maxwell has been built using FPGA technology designed and manufactured by Scottish SMEs Nallatech and Alpha Data. It uses next generation FPGAs provided by Xilinx, a leading FPGA company.

Maxwell’s power has already been demonstrated by porting three numerically intensive applications from the oil and gas, financial and medical imaging sectors.

The FHPCA (FPGA High Performance Computing Alliance) has spent the past two years and £3.6m, including funding from Scottish Enterprise, developing Maxwell.

Maxwell is being aimed at industrial sectors such as drug design, military defence, seismology, medical imaging, mobile telecoms, computer modelling, and financial engineering.

Graham Smart, managing director of Alpha Data, said, "FPGAs have grown up over recent years. Dramatic improvements in density, speed and cost enable these devices to perform compute bound applications hundreds of times faster than conventional processors.”

During 2007–2008, FHPCA will run a series of seminars to introduce Maxwell to UK industrial sectors. The first event will be in Edinburgh in May this year.

Click here for a short online movie explaining more about Maxwell and the FHPCA

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