Silicon Graphics has knocked out a beefed-up version of its Altix 3700 high-performance computer, making it one of the most powerful systems on the market.

The Altix 3700 Bx2 doubles the number of Itanium 2 processors that can fit into a single server, and can be built out of as many as 32 eight-processor servers, which SGI calls "compute modules." The previous version of the Altix 3700 had only four processors.

Initially, SGI will ship the Bx2 in configurations that allow one operating system to run on as many as 256 processors, but larger configurations are in the works, Jeff Greenwald, senior director of server product management and marketing with SGI. It will be capable of supporting as much as 24TB of memory.

The supercomputer will be SGI's first to include a water cooling option, and will use its next-generation NUMAlink 4 technology to connect the system components. NUMAlink 4 is capable of transferring data at the rate of 6.4Gbit/s - twice as fast as its predecessor, NUMAlink 3.

SGI has a number of customers using larger versions of the system. NASA's 10,240-processor, multi-node Columbia supercomputer, for example, includes a 2,048-processor Altix system.

NASA is also using an upcoming version of the Itanium 2 processor that has a larger, 9MB, on-chip cache that has given engineers a 30 percent to 40 percent performance boost, said Richard Dracott, general manager for Intel's enterprise platform marketing and planning group.

The Altix systems are designed to support both the 9MB version of Itanium 2, which is expected by year's end, as well as an upcoming dual-core Itanium processor, code-named Montecito, that is expected to ship next year, SGI said.

SGI plans to formally announce a 512-processor version of Altix "shortly", Greenwald said, and 1,024-processor and 2,048-processor versions will follow.

The Linux-based Altix has helped reverse the fortunes of SGI, which several years ago seemed on the verge of collapse following an ill-fated foray into the Windows market, said Addison Snell, research director with analyst company IDC.

"The Altix was first launched in January of 2002, and the adoption has really been fantastic," Snell said. "The most important thing for SGI to do quickly is recapture lots of market share in high-performance computing," he said. "They can get a lot of growth by going after customers that they have lost over the last five years."

SGI's ambitions for Altix are greater than that, however. The company is working with OEMs and systems integrators to sell the systems in countries and businesses that are new to SGI, Greenwald said. Customers have begun to use Altix to run new types of applications such as the Oracle database.

Pricing for the Altix 3700 Bx2 starts at $275,000 for a 16-processor system.