Compaq To Build U.S. Supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Tuesday that Compaq Computer Corp. has been selected to build a supercomputer more powerful than the world’s 21 existing supercomputers combined.

The $200 million (US$) computer is the fifth in the DOE’s nuclear weapons simulation program, called Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI), which allows the U.S. to keep its nuclear stockpile while complying with the nuclear test-ban treaty.

Faster than Ever

Named “ASCI Q,” the newest supercomputer will be capable of performing 30 trillion calculations per second. ASCI Q tops the previous fastest machine, the ASCI White, built by IBM for the DOE program. The new computer will help scientists study the effects of aging on nuclear weapons.

“ASCI Q will increase our capacity to maintain and assess the safety and performance of the nuclear weapons stockpile while moving us toward new scientific frontiers in the simulation of complex systems,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory director John Browne.

IBM Chief Competitor

Compaq outbid Sun Microsystems, which recently expanded into the field, and Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), which built “Blue Mountain,” one of the other supercomputers in the DOE series.

Still Compaq’s chief rival is considered to be IBM, which has built two supercomputers in the DOE series. IBM has announced plans for a 1,000 “teraflop” supercomputer called “Blue Gene,” to be used in biomolecular research, which Big Blue says will be capable of a quadrillion calculations per second.

Compaq, the world’s second-largest computer company and the largest global supplier of computer systems, began diversifying from its traditional emphasis on personal computers two years ago when it bought Digital Equipment Corp.

Earlier this month, the company landed a $45 million contract awarded by the National Science Foundation to build and manage the world’s largest non-military supercomputer, a machine that will be used for the modeling of earthquakes and global climate change, as well as storm-scale weather forecasting.

Compaq’s stock has risen 26 percent this year.

Options to Expand Power

ASCI Q will take up more than 21,000 square feet, roughly the size of five basketball courts, at the Los Alamos facility. Expected to become fully operational by 2002, ASCI Q holds nearly 12,000 processors and will be able to perform in one day the calculations that would take a personal computer 60 years.

The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration has options to upgrade the computer, which operates at 30-plus teraflops. The goal of the program is to bring the power of its supercomputer to 100 teraflops.

The supercomputer series is part of the DOE’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, which uses surveillance, experiments and non-nuclear tests to “assess and certify the safety, security and reliability of nuclear weapons without underground nuclear testing.”

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