Sun Microsystems is well on the way to becoming the supercomputing name to reckon with. The company has won a deal from the University of Texas (UT) to supply a supercomputer system that, when completed next year, could be the fastest ever.

The Texas Advanced Computer Center (TACC) at UT is to get a $59 million (£31.4 million) grant from the National Science Foundation towards the supercomputer. The final version will be up and running by October next year, and the finished product will have a massive 13,000 four-core AMD Opteron processors, 100TB of memory and a 1.7PB hard disk.

The deal returns Sun to the Top 500 supercomputer rankings, depriving peers IBM , HP , Dell and other more specialised players of all the glory. Lately, Sun has enjoyed high performance computing success resulting from its Opteron-based server line.

Sun and UT claim that the TACC box will reach peak performance of 400 teraflops (trillions of floating point calculations). It will be used for a wide variety of scientific tasks, such as calculating booster donations for the school's football team

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory currently has the fastest computer in the world, topping out at 280 teraflops. The IBM BlueGene system came in number one on the TOP500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers released earlier this year, as it has for the last two years. It is expected to remain at the top for a few more years, according to the list.

IBM plans to launch a new machine that combines its own Cell processors with Opteron chips next year. That supercomputer for Los Alamos National Lab should come close to quadrupling Blue Gene's performance by cranking 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second - or, in other terms, a petaflop.

Supercomputing systems have long been considered a national treasure in the US. The US government has proven willing to fund the giants with generous grants, making sure that American supercomputers are speedier and bigger than any others. Anna Lagerkvist