Silicon Graphics has launched a new blade server system aimed at the high performance computing (HPC) market.

The SGI Altix ICE 8200 can house up to 128 quad-core processors - 512 cores - in a rack to deliver six TFLOPS, according to SGI.

Key application areas, according to IDC, are bio-life sciences, university/academic, defence, and computer-aided engineering. For example, at the launch, early customer Prof Matthew Bate from the University of Exeter explained how his astrophysics department was using the system to model stellar gas clouds.

Bate said: "We do observational and numerical astronomy and model clouds of gas so we can examine the collapse and birth of stars. We use compressible fluid dynamics code, all written in-house in Fortran."

According to SGI, the ICE system is up to 40 percent denser than competing blades while being more energy efficient. The system offers up to $53,000 of annual energy savings, said SGI. This addresses power and cooling issues, which are the top challenges for clustered systems managers, according to IDC.

SGI said the Altrix ICE uses an Intel co-designed, dual-processor blade that accepts up to 32GB of RAM. The diskless blade connects using an Infiniband backplane that connects I/O modules such as Gigabit Ethernet, and has been stripped out to include only the components required for HPC applications.

SGI said that the system uses technology from its Itanium systems, such a power supply that offers up to 90 percent efficiency on its 12V DC rail. The system includes redundant hot-swappable power supplies, fans and other cooling components.

SGI senior VP Dave Parry said that the Altix ICE includes the software required to get the system up and running comes pre-installed at the factory. Bate said that his department had its system working within half a day of its arrival.

The software bundle includes SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, along with an SGI stack that is claimed to optimise Linux for HPC applications and Altair PBS Professional workload management software. Parry said that Red Hat Linux would be an option in future.

IDC's Earl Joseph reckoned that HPC systems were becoming increasingly x86-based due to the platform's price-performance advantage. For example, Joseph said that the price per processor paid for x86 HPC systems was $2,255, while for Itanium it was $8,373 and for other RISC platforms, $5,840. Joseph said: "We expect x86 to be 85 percent of this market within the next two years."