DOE unveils fastest supercomputer

The Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory formally unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer Aug. 15—a little more than a year after it was delivered—and detailed plans for simulating nuclear detonations using the mammoth machine.

Developed by IBM Corp. under the National Nuclear Security Administration's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) Partnership, the ASCI White machine is capable of 12.3 trillion calculations/sec, which is more than the combined speed of the next three most powerful supercomputers in the world.

The initiative uses experimental programs and computer simulation to maintain the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground testing. Scientists will use ASCI White to run 3-D simulations of the operation and aging of nuclear weapons.

David Nowak, Livermore ASCI program leader, said the success of the ASCI program has helped quiet skeptics while providing the foundation for the next phase in achieving "100 trillion calculations per second by 2005." Located in a classified area at Livermore, ASCI White covers a space the size of two basketball courts and weighs 106 tons. It contains 6 trillion bytes of memory, almost 50,000 times greater than the average personal computer, and has more than 160 terabytes of disk storage capacity, or enough to hold six times the entire book collection of the Library of Congress.

The ASCI project calls for a series of supercomputers—1, 3, 10, 30 and 100 teraflops in size—to be built over several years. A teraflop is a trillion calculations/sec.

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