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Originally published Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 7:54 PM

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Broadband speeds in state pick up pace

It's getting harder to say there's a broadband crisis in Washington state. Broadband with speeds of 3 megabits per second or faster is available...

Seattle Times staff columnist

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It's getting harder to say there's a broadband crisis in Washington state.

Broadband with speeds of 3 megabits per second or faster is available to more than 96 percent of homes in the state, according to the second annual report from the state Department of Commerce's broadband office.

Washington residents are also more likely to take advantage of available broadband. The state ranks third in the nation for broadband usage, or adoption of available services, with a 77 percent adoption rate. It trails Vermont and New Hampshire.

If you live in a metropolitan area, speeds are increasing dramatically. Available speeds jumped from less than 10 Mbps in 2010 to 25 Mbps or more in populated areas along the Interstate 5 corridor and parts of Clark, Yakima and Spokane counties.

Altogether 79 percent of the state's homes now have access to broadband with speeds of 25 Mbps or more, up from 76 percent in 2010. This gain came largely because Comcast — which covers 62 percent of the state's homes — upgraded its network over the past two years.

The number of households with no broadband available declined to 3.8 percent, down from 4.3 percent in 2010.

An additional 2.3 percent can get service at speeds ranging only from 768 kilobits per second to 3 Mbps — "sufficient to send emails and stream a feature movie, but not fast enough to conduct high definition (HD) two-way telelearning or have multiple users viewing HD-quality video," the report noted.

More improvements are on the way. Recipients of more than $165 million worth of federal grants to improve broadband access all began work on their projects last year, the report said.

To capitalize on the improvements, the state broadband office will now work on creating regional technology planning teams, holding a broadband applications contest and continuing to map broadband services.

Areas that lack broadband access include rugged terrain such as the foothills of the Cascades and sparsely populated areas with fewer than 20 residents per square mile.

Wireless broadband speeds are also increasing, and Washington has more competition among wireless providers than most states. The report said 53 percent of state residents have access to at least five wireless carriers, more than double the national average of 24.8 percent of the population with access to at least five carriers.

Super starter

So much for the supercheap supercomputer.

Seattle supercomputer maker Cray announced Wednesday that its new entry-level product is a midrange system that starts at $200,000.

The company also stopped selling its CX1 entry-level systems that started at $25,000 and its CX100 systems that started under $100,000.

"For us it was more of a technology decision and supporting changes that are coming to the processor in the years forward," spokesman Nick Davis said.

The CX1 and CX100 did well, selling several hundred units, he said. Most ended up selling for a multiple of their base price, after they were configured to customer specifications.

Cray's new $200,000 systems don't have a moniker. They're configurations of the company's XE6m (pictured) and XK6m systems.

The selling point is that the new systems have features and architecture drawn from Cray's upper-end systems, yet are relatively affordable.

In other words, they're like Quarter Pounders with the Big Mac's special sauce, and the 99-cent burger is off the menu.

These new systems are aimed at the department-level technical computing market, which is expected to grow 7 percent to 8 percent a year through 2015, according to research firm IDC.

So what do you get for $200,000 nowadays at Crays R Us?

Davis said the base system is a single-cabinet supercomputer with more than 750 compute cores delivering about 6.5 teraflops of performance. The system uses AMD Interlagos processors and can be ordered with Cray XK6 compute blades with graphics processing units, but that may increase the price a bit.

Brier Dudley's blog excerpts appear Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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