The experts behind the Power Mac G5-based supercomputer cluster being assembled by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University aim to switch the machine on by October 1.

If they meet the deadline, the cluster will make the next ranking of the Top 500 Supercomputer list.

Faculty and students hope to set up the 1,100-node Terascale Computing Facility by the end of this week, said Lynn Nystrom, a Virginia Tech spokeswoman. The university thinks the new cluster will rank among the top ten fastest supercomputers deployed at academic institutions, and among the fastest overall in the world, she said.

Virginia Tech announced the cluster earlier this month. It will cost the university $5.2 million spread out over a five-year period, Nystrom said.

Each node is a Power Mac G5 with two 2.0GHz IBM PowerPC 970 processors. Each hosts 4GB memory and 160GB hard drives.

G5 benefits Virginia Tech chose Apple's Macs for its cluster because of the price/performance benefits of a cluster based on the G5 desktop, Nystrom said.

The cluster uses the Infiniband interconnect technology from Mellanox Technologies and Gigabit Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems. An internally developed software package known as "Deja vu" will be used to ensure the system is fault tolerant.

Virginia Tech plans to use the cluster to attract research projects in areas such as quantum chemistry, computational biochemistry, and cell cycle modelling, among others.

"This (cluster) allows us to do the big science research projects we couldn't do in the past," Nystrom said. "We're the only university in Virginia in the top 50 academic research institutions, and we want to be in the top 30 by 2010, and we need a supercomputer to meet those goals." Virgina Tech is ranked 49th in the US as measured by research expenditures, just ahead of the California Institute of Technology.

The university will present its benchmarking information to the Top 500 rankings by October 1. Final scores will be released some time in November, Nystrom said.