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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
Supercomputer to simulate bomb tests
White AP
White exceeds the double-digit teraflop speed barrier
IBM has unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer.

It is capable of 12.3 trillion calculations per second, which makes the machine three times faster than the current record holder.

The colossus, called Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative White, or ASCI White, occupies the space of two tennis courts and weighs over 100 tonnes.

The machine consumes 1.2 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power 1,000 homes, and will be used by the US Government for virtual testing of nuclear weapons.

Twenty-eight articulated lorries will be required to deliver the colossus to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. according to IBM.

Ten million years

"This level of computing power has never been achieved anywhere," said David Cooper, associate director for computations at Lawrence Livermore. "It will open new horizons in scientific computing, as we approach our goal to simulate the ageing and operation of a nuclear weapon."

IBM said a human being armed with a simple calculator would need 10 million years to make the same number of calculations as ASCI White can perform in a single second.

The mammoth machine is powered by 8,192 copper microprocessors and contains six trillion bytes of memory. It has than 160 trillion bytes of disk storage capacity, enough to store the equivalent of 36 million full-length books.

In tests at IBM's facilities in Poughkeepsie, New York, ASCI White performed at a speed of 12.3 "teraflops," or trillions of operations per second.

IBM's ASCI Blue Pacific, until now the fastest supercomputer, was demonstrated 21 months ago. That computer could perform 3.87 trillion operations a second. IBM's contract required the new machine to run at 10 teraflops, or 10 trillion operations per second, making it the first machine to exceed the double-digit teraflop speed barrier, a feat once thought impossible by computer scientists.

Weather models

"It is certainly a technical milestone that we are very proud of," said Nicholas D'Onofrio, IBM's senior vice president of technology and manufacturing.

ASCI White was built mostly from components of existing commercial computers, Mr D'Onofrio said, and can do far more than just model nuclear explosions. IBM officials said that the new system could contribute to breakthroughs in financial models, genetic computing and allow a country to monitor national air space with a single machine.

The existing 18-hour computing cycles needed to create a global weather model could be reduced to seconds, IBM claimed.

Last year, when the Senate rejected a treaty to ban nuclear testing worldwide, the Clinton administration argued that using computer simulation instead of actual nuclear explosions was a reliable way of appraising the US weapons stockpile.

Opponents questioned that claim and said the treaty would harm efforts to maintain the safety and reliability of the US nuclear arsenal.

To perform a full three-dimensional nuclear simulation in 1985, it would have taken the fastest supercomputer available 60,000 years, said David Schwoegler, spokesman for the Lawrence Livermore lab. When a supercomputer reaches 100 trillion operations per second, the lab can do the same test in a month. They expect that to happen by 2004.

The ASCI project calls for a series of supercomputers - 1, 3, 10, 30 and 100 teraflops in size - to be built over a period of several years.

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