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Flashmob Computing: No Threat To Supercomputing

The "Flashmob 1" gathering of laptop computer users in San Francisco fizzled in its attempt to take a place in the Linpack benchmark of supercomputing, but it scored high in enthusiasm and fun, proving that hundreds of computers can be linked together for some uses.

Jack Dongarra, the University of Tennessee computer scientist who authors the Linpack report asked: "The question one has to ask is: what are you going to do with it?"

In an interview Monday, Dongarra said the informal tying together of hundreds of laptops -- about 700 were interconnected by volunteers at the University of San Francisco over the weekend -- can have a future, for instance, if friends and colleagues want to carry out some advanced calculations.

However, the Flashmob group had aspirations of initially using the installation to perform ambitious calculations normally carried out by massively parallel supercomputers. The "flashmob" idea refers to gatherings that are spontaneously announced over the Web, usually to carry out some offbeat activity or stunt.

Dongarra said the organizers appeared to have set up networking well by using 100 MB Ethernet links and then a higher level network to accommodate the laptops what were lined up in the college's gym. The installation performed 180 billion operations a second -- well below its planned 500 billion operations a second. According to reports from the San Francisco flashmob installation, a few individual laptops failed, causing the installation to slow down.

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