IBM regains speed lead

The latest machine for helping the Energy Department model nuclear explosions has become the world's most powerful computer.

An IBM Corp. Blue Gene/L supercomputer, using the industry-standard Linpack benchmark, attained processing speeds of 36.01 teraflops, breaking the three-year-old record of 35.86 teraflops set by NEC Computers Inc.'s Earth Simulator in Japan. Blue Gene hit the milestone during internal testing at IBM's production facility in Rochester, Minn.

The largest planned BlueGene/L machine, which is scheduled for delivery to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in early 2005, will occupy 64 full racks, with a peak performance of 360 teraflops. The Advanced Super Computing program of the National Nuclear Security Administration is a primary collaborator on the Blue Gene project.

"Nobody's had a computer that is this fast before, and you have to figure out how to optimize the computer code," said Bob Hirschfeld, a Lawrence Livermore spokesman. "This is a huge jump."

Two IBM supercomputers will assist the laboratory within the next year. The first, which will arrive in three parts by late April, is an unclassified machine that will be used for basic science, cosmology and material science, among many other tasks, Lawrence Livermore officials said.

A second, 100 teraflop machine will come in June — a continuation of the ASCI series. This supercomputer's work will be classified, but related to weapons and 3-D modeling of a nuclear explosion, among other subjects.

U.S. officials have been pushing for more federal research with supercomputers ever since the NEC machine in Japan set the record.

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