U.S. gains in supercomputing but loses top spot

U.S. gains in supercomputing but loses top spot

Although the U.S. government continues to acquire massive supercomputers, it has, at least temporarily, lost the distinction of having the world's fastest computer, according to a semiannual ranking of big systems.

The new Earth Simulator system in Yokohama, Japan, packs more computing speed than the next 12 fastest computers combined, according to the new list at www.top500.org. An international team of computer scientists today released its list of the planet's top 500 supercomputers in conjunction with a conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

Using 5,104 vector processors from NEC Corp. of Japan, the Earth Simulator clocked nearly 36 trillion floating-point operations per second on a standard benchmark. That's 87 percent of its theoretical peak speed of 41 TFLOPS.

In contrast to the Japanese system's vector processors, big U.S. supercomputers use large numbers of commodity chips arranged in massively parallel architecture. Such systems operate at a smaller fraction of their theoretical peak speed on real-world problems.

The Energy Department still holds six of the top seven spots on the list. Last year's champ, the ASCI White machine at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is ranked the second-fastest on Earth. Its 8,192 IBM Power3 processors have a theoretical peak speed of 12.8 TFLOPS and scored 7.2 TFLOPS on the benchmark.

The Hewlett-Packard AlphaServer GS system still under construction at Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico ranks sixth on the list with a theoretical peak of 4.1 TFLOPS and a benchmark score of 2.9 TFLOPS. When finished, it is expected to have a theoretical peak of roughly 30 TFLOPS. Energy's current road map for simulating the aging of nuclear weapons eventually will require a supercomputer in the 100-TFLOPS range.

The Top 500 list covers systems as of mid-May.

In related news, IBM Corp. today announced that the Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is buying an IBM eServer p690 supercomputer for research into ocean currents and infectious-disease vaccines. The system, to be named Blue Ocean, will have 1,184 IBM Power4 processors for a theoretical peak speed of more than 6 TFLOPS. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction also recently signed a deal for a large IBM system to forecast the weather [see story at www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/18874-1.html].

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