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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A survey of packages for large linear systems


This paper evaluates portable software packages for the iterative solution of very large sparse linear systems on parallel architectures. While we cannot hope to tell individual users which package will best suit their needs, we do hope that our systematic evaluation provides essential unbiased information about the packages and the evaluation process may serve as an example on how to evaluate these packages. The information contained here include feature comparisons, usability evaluations and performance characterizations. This review is primarily focused on self-contained packages that can be easily integrated into an existing program and are capable of computing solutions to very large sparse linear systems of equations. More specifically, it concentrates on portable parallel linear system solution packages that provide iterative solution schemes and related preconditioning schemes because iterative methods are more frequently used than competing schemes such as direct methods. The eight packages evaluated are: Aztec, BlockSolve,ISIS++, LINSOL, P_SPARSLIB, PARASOL, PETSc, and PINEAPL. Among the eight portable parallel iterative linear system solvers reviewed, we recommend PETSc and Aztec for most application programmers because they have well designed user interface, extensive documentation and very responsive user support. Both PETSc and Aztec are written in the C language and are callable from Fortran. For those users interested in using Fortran 90, PARASOL is a good alternative. ISIS++is a good alternative for those who prefer the C++ language. Both PARASOLand ISIS++ are relatively new and are continuously evolving. Thus their user interface may change. In general, those packages written in Fortran 77 are more cumbersome to use because the user may need to directly deal with a number of arrays of varying sizes. Languages like C++ and Fortran 90 offer more convenient data encapsulation mechanisms which make it easier to implement a clean and intuitive user interface. In addition to reviewing these portable parallel iterative solver packages, we also provide a more cursory assessment of a range of related packages, from specialized parallel preconditioners to direct methods for sparse linear systems.

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