Supercomputer souped up

IBM Corp. shipped the most powerful supercomputer in the world to the Lawrence

Livermore National Laboratory last week, enabling scientists to monitor

the condition of nuclear weapons without having to detonate them.

The $110 million computer system, code-named ASCI White, is made up of 512

computers linked together that take up the space of two basketball courts.

It has attained a peak performance of 12.3 trillion floating-point operations

per second (teraflops), according to IBM program director Tom Haine. It's

the successor to a supercomputer in use at the Livermore lab that can perform

at about 3 teraflops.

ASCI White is the first computer to exceed the double-digit teraflop speed

barrier and does so through a combination of faster copper processors — rather than aluminum — and sophisticated software that coordinates activity

so that the system runs as if all its parts were one, said Jim Jardine,

project manager for ASCI White.

In the past, the United States had to detonate nuclear weapons underground

to see if they still worked. The new supercomputer system will enable scientists

to keep track of the state of the weapons by simulating their condition

and aging.

It would take one person with a calculator 10 million years to do the number

of calculations that ASCI White can do in one second, according to IBM.

—Johnston is a reporter for IDG News Service.

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