In a squat cement building at the outskirts of Virginia Tech's campus, 1,100 Macintosh computers are stacked like library books--arranged by students in exchange for football tickets and pizza.

Despite its humble appearance, this cluster of off-the-shelf G5 Power Macs, or the "Big Mac" as students have begun calling it, is about to rank as the world's third-fastest supercomputer, at 10.3 trillion operations per second.

The cost: About $7 million, significantly less than the custom supercomputers that labs use for weather and weapons simulations, chemical experiments, and other highly complex


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