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CERN physicists turn to Intel Macs

updated 01:25 pm EDT, Mon June 19, 2006

Physicists turn to Macs

Scientists at the CERN international particle physics laboratory in Geneva have turned to Apple technology in a major global project to help improve humankind's understanding of the structure of the universe. Intel Macs will be used to measure what happens when particles collide at near the speed of light. The ALICE experiment (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) is one of five engineered to create collisions produced by CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest particle accelerator that will collide beams of protons with 14 TeV of energy. The five experiments will handle nearly 10 petabytes of data per year, or as much data as the entire European telecommunications network handles today.

Mac cluster

The ALICE computing group implemented a mini cluster consisting of eight nodes of Apple Xserve and Xserve Raid dual processors, porting both the software environment and the grid software. Since Apple's introduction of its Intel Macs, the group has doubled the size of its cluster.

"We have nearly 1600 Mac users at CERN. Since we took delivery of a number of laptops with Intel chips the performance improvements have been phenomenal," said Fons Rademakers, ALICE offline computing software architect. "On the older Macs, compiling code took one and a half hours. With the new ones we are down to 10 minutes. So Apple is now an extremely effective development environment and we know it is likely to be very cost effective."


CERN also finds Macs useful for multimedia presentations and conferencing capability, which are requirements for all ALICE team scientists.

"We use multimedia a great deal," said Federico Carminati, ALICE computing coordinator. "It is not the first parameter of platform choice, but it's great that you have that on the Mac, as well as the UNIX environment. Given the choice between a Mac and a system with comparable performance, our people will choose the Mac because of the added multimedia value."

Assessing the results

Once a 'farm' of Intel-based Macs has been installed at CERN, other computer centers will likely send representatives to assess the results.

"We know that a number of centers would like to run Macs," said Rademakers, "but if we weren't running our infrastructure on the platform, they could never make the move. Now they can."

by MacNN Staff





  1. ibugv4

    Joined: Dec 1969


    good press

    we need more of stuff like this floating around.

  1. wymer100

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Baltimore schools...

    Seems kind of funny to see this article right next the one talking about the Baltimore schools removing their macs.

  1. debohun

    Joined: Dec 1969



    More like sad, but what can you expect from public education, it's run by government and government is subject to political influence, and influence always goes to the highest bidder or shrillest voice. What's amazing is that Apple has any educational and government market at all--that's a hugh testament to the quality and value of Macintosh.

    Just FYI, as a substitute teacher, I can vouch that the majority of computers in the classrooms I've been in aren't being used at all (many not even plugged in) or are being under-used instead. The districts near me are exclusively Windows-based, so I'm not surprised at this--the teachers simply can't be bothered with the difficulty of learning to use them. Also, again a political problem, most of the systems are so locked down with security restrictions, because the districts are afraid that some religious zealot will sue them when little Bobby sees mammary gland online, that the machines that are turned on are almost unusable.

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