- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Scientists unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer on Monday, a $100 million machine that for the first time has performed 1,000 trillion calculations per second in a sustained exercise.

The technology breakthrough was accomplished by engineers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and IBM Corp. on a computer to be used primarily on nuclear weapons work, including simulating nuclear explosions.

The computer, named Roadrunner, is twice as fast as IBM’s Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which itself is three times faster than any of the world’s other supercomputers, according to IBM.

“The computer is a speed demon. It will allow us to solve tremendous problems,” said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear weapons research and maintains the warhead stockpile.

But officials said the computer also could have a wide range of other applications in civilian engineering, medicine and science, from developing biofuels and designing more fuel-efficient cars to finding drug therapies and providing services to the financial industry.

To put the computer’s speed in perspective, if every one of the 6 billion people on earth used a hand-held computer and worked 24 hours a day it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner computer can do in a single day.

IBM and Los Alamos engineers worked six years on the computer technology.

Some elements of the Roadrunner can be traced to popular video games, said David Turek, vice president of IBM’s supercomputing programs. In some ways, he said, it’s “a very souped-up Sony PlayStation 3.”

“We took the basic chip design [of a PlayStation] and advanced its capability,” said Mr. Turek.

But the Roadrunner supercomputer is nothing like a video game.

The interconnecting system occupies 6,000 square feet with 57 miles of fiber optics and weighs 500,000 pounds. Although made from commercial parts, the computer consists of 6,948 dual-core computer chips and 12,960 cell engines, and it has 80 terabytes of memory.

The cost: $100 million.

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